The Key to Communication Is Listening
Have you ever wondered why some improvement initiatives fail and some succeed? I do, and often look back on my experience and observations wondering why the things that looked so good on paper failed to take root and move forward as planned. Below is an example that is as perplexing as it is enlightening on this subject.
A new manager of a well-run company wanted to improve operational excellence by implementing a textbook Toyota Production System (TPS), otherwise known as “LEAN” to most of us. They did all the right things on paper: talked the talk with all the right words and jargon; hired high-level employees and consultants with fancy resumes and more degrees than a thermometer; trained people on the Utopian benefits of TPS and explained how the current system was woefully inadequate. They communicated this often, very directly, and held lots of offsite training events to educate the masses.
Then it came time to “take it to the street” and implement. It should have worked remarkably well. It should have been a slam dunk. I mean, every “t” was crossed and each “I” was dotted. So why did it come crashing down around all those involved? I mean, it should have been the glory moment, right? Well … wrong—it was a disaster! It was as though someone put a stick through the spokes of your bike while cruising a country road on a sunny day; CRASH, BOOM, BANG, you are on the pavement rubbing your head wondering what the heck just happened.
What Went Wrong?
Communication—or lack thereof! It could not thrive with only the one-way communication described earlier. The entire roll-out needed real, two-way, multi-dimensional and interconnected relationships and conversations that foster an understanding of the current state and the needs from multiple viewpoints at all levels of the organization.
Those well-intended folks forgot that communication uses more than just lips; it uses ears and eyes first; then the lips chime in; and dare I say, a bit of heart for good measure. A critical miss for upper management was that they did not listen to their employees. They did not listen to their suppliers, nor did they listen to their customers. They simply did not listen at all. Most importantly, they did not see what was already working well. They did not see the heart and energy that folks put into building a good company. (Don’t tell anyone, but the last time I looked, Toyota has recalls like everyone else.)
Speaking of Heart and Soul …
Examples like the one above underscore the importance of not overlooking the obvious. At Fourstar, we don’t have the silver bullet, but we do have hard working people who depend on one another to make each customer’s experience better. With all of our projects, whether it be manufacturing custom cable assemblies, designing complex box builds, or being a supply chain vendor dedicated to test engineers for all their tooling requirements, we listen and make things better every day. We then use the principles below towards continuous improvements on both internal initiatives and new product introduction (NPI) and design for manufacturability (DFM) for our customers. We are ready to listen and make it better for you.
The Fourstar Way
- Listen to your employees and understand their pain points and happy places.
- Listen to the needs, expectations, and desires of your customers and suppliers.
- Look around and really see what is good, better, and best with your organization; you may be surprised.
- Ask your best consultants (employees, customers, and suppliers) where and how they think the system could be better.
- Dream Big
- Share a big vision that encompasses people, profit, and bragging rights (a better tomorrow).
- Share the dreams of others; share your common dream (if you thought of it, others may also have).
- Share a realistic view of “what can be” with passion and confidence; then make sure it is obtainable.
- Sincerely promote it as a group or company dream.
- Communicate: Eyes, Ears … and then Lips
- Start a genuine, two-way dialogue with groups to harvest ideas and support for the program.
- Be genuine in your approach, and respect the hard work folks have already done by communicating your appreciation for the opportunity to help them improve the work they have already started.
- Set the bar high, but discuss how best to achieve it with an agreed-upon timeline, or how to accelerate the timeline as you gain momentum.
- Start Small, Think Big
- Get a few small successes under the team’s belt in one area first to set enthusiasm and momentum.
- Celebrate successes, and recognize setbacks honestly.
- Hand out the credit and suck up the failures.
- Start to deploy to a bigger audience, using your initial team’s success as inspiration for others.
- Allow each team to create their own journey, as long as the goal and guidelines are met. One size does not fit all.
- Ramp Up
- Add a bit more challenge and increase the pace as the improvement skills get honed (you may find the team outpaces you).
- Bring in outside help, if needed—but make sure the team agrees to bring them in to get bigger projects completed or educate the group.
- Don’t fret small setbacks, or even a large one, if “things are getting better.” Process improvement is not instant soup; yes, instant soup is fast, but unless you are mountain climbing, would that really be your first choice?
- Discuss setbacks and ways to move forward. Remember, it’s 5 percent inspiration, and 95 percent perspiration that wins the game.
- Congratulate each other with every win and also for the lessons learned on efforts that did not work so well.
Partnering with You
Fourstar partners with leading companies to “find a better way” for time to market (TTM), new product introduction (NPI), and design for manufacturing (DFM) initiatives. For 30 years, Fourstar has been delivering completed electronic assemblies and electronic exposures with a variety of complex interconnect content. We’d love to listen to your needs and share the common vision. Contact us now to get the conversation started. Looking forward to hearing (from) you!