“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” – Peter Drucker
There is little argument that effective coaching is critical to drive lean thinking within an organization or a team. Believing this and actually doing it, however, are two different things. The ability to coach does not come naturally to most people, and without a standardized method for coaching, the variation in application can doom the effort to failure.
The Script – 4 Key Questions
Fortunately, there are four basic questions that leaders can apply in a variety of situations that, when done consistently, can drive the type of thinking that leads to improved performance throughout the organization. The questions are based on teaching and reinforcing a standard way of looking at results to identify problems and make improvements. The questions can be applied in a variety of situations to develop a lean mindset throughout the organization. A further benefit of the questions is that they develop the ability of leaders to coach. And this is all done real-time, using actual data from real processes.
The questions are as follows:
- What is your objective? This question helps clarify thinking about what exactly the process is expected to achieve. It helps people understand the value they provide and how their process fits into the bigger picture. Too often, teams go about their business without a clear or consistent idea of why they are doing what they do. This question can help the coach guide the person being coached toward a systems thinking approach by assuring the team does not become too narrowly focused on one specific target at the expense of larger organizational objectives. The discussion around objectives basically becomes a realtime catchball session as it helps clarify expectations and understanding.
- What is the data telling you? This helps the person develop an ability to use data to guide action. Asking questions about data can lead to learning about lagging and leading indicators and how each fits into the improvement process. The discussion will naturally lead to questions about which metrics are being reported and why.
- What are you doing about the gaps? It is important to drive thinking around actions to understand and close gaps between targeted and actual performance. Regularly questioning a person about gaps helps the person develop a natural inclination to look for problems on a continual basis. The result is an almost obsessive desire to attack problems and close gaps. Remember, though, that this is a conversation about improvement. You are trying to develop the ability to show and address – not hide – problems, so the tone of the conversation, as well as a good deal of patience, is critical to success.
- What help do you need? Implied in coaching and development is the idea that it is a team effort. Handing a problem to someone and walking off is not coaching – it is also not leadership. You’ve got to be involved enough to guide the person through the process with the objective of helping him or her develop the ability to quickly and effectively address problems. Especially early in the development, you need to understand what the person is thinking and why they are approaching an issue in a certain way. The problem-solving A3 is perfect for this purpose because it helps the coach see into the mind of the person as they attempt to address a problem. Remember that you are the coach, rather than the person working the problem, and that your objective is to help him or her develop the ability to address future problems without your help.
Developing successful coaches and leaders throughout the organization requires, at least initially, that everyone follows the script. If people stray from the questions before they truly understand the process, the result will be variation in the way people identify and address problems, and unfortunately, very little development.
Another reason for sticking to the script is to develop the ability of leaders to question rather than tell. If development was as easy as telling people what to do, organizations would run much better and transformation would be an easy process.