If I could do it all again

I was a very basic thinking, almost annoying person, who was given the honour of being paid to do what I loved.

I loved asking why, a lot

I loved helping others, a lot

I loved solving problems, a lot

Thanks to some great support at work from a few fabulous people just being myself got me noticed. There were people far better equipped than me to become Head of Lean EMEA, I had no A levels or degree education. I came from a single parent family, my mother did whatever she needed to clothe and feed my brother and myself, she was my inspiration for working hard and worrying less about certificate, she went to school for a very short period of time and then went to help my nan run various little enterprises back home in Malta.

So there i was, a fabulous job doing tasks i enjoyed in a company i loved for 13 years, plus i was getting paid for it as well – now that’s what i call an annual bonus !

But this was a continuous improvement role, i’d be stupid and naive to say i did a great job, there’s always room to do better, and here’s a short story about what I’d wished I’d done different.
Firstly, I need to understand more strategically what is Operational Excellence ? According to Google it’s an element of organizational leadership that stresses the application of a variety of principles, systems, and tools toward the sustainable improvement of key performance metrics.

I underlined the last bit as this was my first error. I was set targets to coach X number of “belts” which i did very well, all across EMEA. Back then i wasn’t the brightest in the room when questioning whether targets were relevant and aligned to strategy, i just did as i was told and usually smashed the targets i was given. I really should have questioned those targets, they are activity based targets which should have been aligned to KPI’s, these KPI’s should have been aligned to strategic goals, i’m thinking policy deployment matrix style thinking here (again, thinking a little too late, i didn’t have a clue what this tool was back then).

So that’s measures a little better understood, now onto sponsorship

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Above are two photographs from me giving out Lean certifications.

On the left it’s myself with someone smiling happily getting his certificate. The smiles are what made my job so worthwhile, i’m pretty sure everyone (almost) enjoyed the training, enjoyed problem solving, and enjoyed making their lives just a little bit easier after solutions were implemented.

The problem was i wasn’t getting much support from management (i struggle to call them leadership, i hadn’t progressed onto training them on the difference between the two just yet).

The problems that were being solved weren’t interesting to management, they didn’t use the new skills of the trainees after the training.

In hindsight i can see what i was doing wrong, the picture says it all, i wasn’t involving the management as much as i should have. I admit I’m happier working with the staff rather than management, staff are the ones that need my time more, but management need my help.

I took a few approaches to improve on this

Before training I would sit down with management, set expectations around the training, and then ask them “what are the biggest problems in your world right now” and “how can we measure this”.

I would then work with the staff and make sure the problems they came up with were aligned to those of their managers, and measures were in place so we could see a direct link.

I would then also invite management into the training, either as sponsors to do opening speeches, at the end for debriefs, or as you can see with the picture on the right hand side (above), i’d use them to present certificates where the trainees would explain what they had done.

I didn’t do the above because i was told to, i did it through my own problem solving process. There was no point continuing with the old process, it was only partially working, however the big problem for me was i probably did this too late. I really would have been better off asking for support (maybe from those with the academic or strategic backgrounds).

The following is how i now saw the Lean program working

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We’d gone from myself trying to champion Lean on my own, and was now working as a member of a team (with the leadership and the staff), collaborating, sharing problems, options and solutions, and celebrating success together.

I did get help later on from a boss who tried helping me think even more strategic about things, this lead me into bigger projects which i really didn’t enjoy, time moves far too slow in those worlds for my simple, agile thinking brain, i prefer the quick win initiatives, in fact i prefer doing these second hand – helping others improve their skills and giving them support so they do these quick win initiatives themselves, and then they go off and do them again, and again, and again. This is the way to intensify efforts through teamwork.

As I said earlier, i’m not perfect, i’ve learnt lessons, there’s many other things i wish i could have done different, some of these were outside my control and some inside my control, but ultimately time caught up with me, new continuous improvement initiatives were introduced which i wasn’t so passionate about, so i left the company.

As I said earlier, i’m not perfect, i’ve learnt lessons, there’s many other things i wish i could have done different, some of these were outside my control and some inside my control, but ultimately time caught up with me. New continuous improvement initiatives were introduced which i wasn’t so passionate about, some making the same mistakes as i mentioned above. I know my limits, i know what makes me happy, and i’m happy with my limits, so rather than just stay and continue to wish “if only” I did what i felt was the right thing and left the company.

I don’t regret a thing really, i have great memories of many fun times, i could have done better but then again who couldn’t look back and wish they’d done things different, no one is perfect. As I’ve said before, I’m on a journey of continuous self development, I will find an outlet to continue this journey somewhere, somehow, sometime.

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