So… What do you do?

By Behaviour, Business, Communication, Continuous Improvement, Customer Service, Data, Employee Engagement, Food for thought, High Performance, Information, Lean Techniques, Lean Thinking, Management, Performance, Robotic Process Automation, RPA, Technology


In the past 7 years as a Lean Continuous Improvement (CI) practitioner, the most common question I get asked is, “So… What is it you do in your role?”  Usually, in response to this question,  I pause for a moment and tend to describe the technical aspects of my job, whether it be: achieving financial benefits through the delivery of projects, releasing capacity through streamlining processes, describing my role as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and the list most definitely goes on.  In all cases: I’m often greeted with a blank face, disinterest, statements such as “that sounds complicated” and then the topic of conversation quickly changes to something different and more likely understood by the unaffiliated.


While on holiday in Europe and after a repeat of the same conversation I took a moment to reflect on why I kept receiving the same response, I was reminded of the most used definition of insanity: ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.’  In my moments of reflection, I started to consider the statement usually presented back to me ‘that sounds complicated.’  When I think about what I do on a daily basis, none of it is rocket science, nor does it require a doctorate in astrophysics.

Leans and Continuous improvement can be and in my opinion ‘is’ simple on most occasions, with the true complexity being engaging with those people impacted by any potential changes.  Remember, everyone is different!  We all have our own set of values, beliefs, individual purposes or objectives, all of which make embedding change that little bit more difficult.  So, understanding ‘what’s in it for them’ (the voice of my customer) and being able to articulate it in a simple way when conversing with them is important in helping them see or think slightly differently about a change to the way they’ve always done things.

Why then have I and others tended to complicate a response to this question, when part of the focus behind creating value is, to simplify things?  Could it be that my typically technical response is some form of self-preservation driven by the fact that creating a culture of continuous improvement is the goal and if that is achieved my role may no longer be required?  Maybe it is linked to the fact I separate work from my social life and have completely forgotten the fact the concept of continuous improvement can be applied equally in your social life just as much as in a business setting.

I came to the realisation that a significant part of me being able to fulfil my purpose is me helping and supporting others.  Something I do every day and is the foundation behind my job.  As a Lean CI Practitioner, we do this by delivering projects which may release capacity or deliver financial savings for our clients or businesses.  It also includes the facilitation of Lean training courses, the coaching and mentoring of people along their development paths.  It was at this point that I was able to answer the original question simply enough whilst creating the appetite for others to want to know the ‘how’.


Now when I am asked the question, “What do you do?” my response is quite simply, I support both businesses and people in realising their potential by sharing a simple approach which will help achieve their goals and ultimately their purpose.

How would you respond to the question and if you’re not a practitioner, would response provide enough intrigue to want to find out more?

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Email is not the problem

Email is not the problem

By 5 Whys, Communication, Email, Lean Thinking, Productivity

Look at how many products are out there now all claiming to kill the horrible, nasty, useless, time-consuming, email.

Slack, Chatter, Yammer, Hipchat – and dozens more. All claiming to ‘solve’ the problem of email.

There is even a product called Shortmail which limits all email users to 500 characters (because apparently, the issue with emails is they are too long).

But all these systems miss the point and are trying to solve the symptom not the cause. The root cause of issues with email is poor communication skills not email itself.

You don’t solve the problem of poor communication skills by giving people a different platform to communicate on – you just transfer the problem to the new system

Email is awesome if you think about it. I can write a message and send that to anyone around the world in seconds. And it’s platform agnostic. You could be on Lotus Notes, Outlook or any number of web-based services and they all work with each other! Wonderful. In an age increasingly dominated by eco-system exclusivity, what a breath of fresh air.

But we’re all drowning in it. I get people want a way of ‘reclaiming’ their work day and getting out from underneath email.

So let’s practice some Lean skills and think about WHY we’re drowning in emails.

  • We receive too many emails. Why?
  • We include people on a message who don’t need to read it. Why?
  • We are including them just in case it becomes important later on. Why?
  • We are worried about doing the wrong thing. Why?
  • We lack the appropriate delegated authority or have micro-managers.

We could run this exercise over a few times and find different root causes of course – there isn’t just one.

There are all sorts of ideas and tricks on the web about how to better manager you email, but it seems to me that the real issue why you’re getting so much in the first place.

It takes seconds for someone to add your email to the address bar but in doing that – they’ve guaranteed to take up 5 minutes or more of your time in reading, filing and maybe replying to that email.

So that’s the behaviour that needs to change. And that’s why these alternatives to email become appealing – not because they offer any real solution to the problem, but because they represent change. It’s far simpler to change a system than it is to change people behaviour. Especially in larger organisations.

But that’s what really needs to happen. We need people’s behaviour to change. And it starts with thinking differently:

  • Does the person I’m including on this email need to read the content?
  • Would I physically write this email out 10 times to mail it to all these people?
  • Why am I copying in these people?
  • Would a catch up on the phone, face to face or even a quick meeting be a better use of everyone’s time?

I know one executive who’s trying to do this. They rarely respond to emails anymore, making it an unreliable medium for contacting them. The upshot of this? If it’s not important, people don’t bother emailing them (as they know they won’t read it). If it is important? They call, text or pop round to see him in person.

This works because adding someone to the CC field of an email is something we don’t even really think twice about. It’s so easy. But if you had to call that person – you wouldn’t bother them unless they really needed to know something.

Perhaps that should be the litmus test of whether someone is included on an email. Would I pick up the phone and speak to this person about this discussion? No – then don’t cc them.

It’s time we all took a little ownership about how to improve our communication skills – especially email.