Subject: Continuous Improvement Conference Newsletter: February 2018

Continuous Improvement Newsletter
February 2018
The Key to Coaching? Knowing How to Ask Questions

Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, has identified six leadership styles. Of the six, coaching was shown to have a marked positive impact on performance but was the least used. So, while "coaching" is a popular term in business circles today, the actual practice of coaching seems to be rare. 

In Michael Bungay Stanier's best-selling book The Coaching Habit, he argues that managers need to develop the habit of curiosity—offering less advice and asking more questions. He offers seven essential questions that need to be part of every manager's daily repertoire. Used regularly these questions (and their variants) will cause managers to work smarter, have less stress, and empower the people around them. 

The Kickstart question for a coaching conversation:
What's on your mind? This is an almost fail-safe way to get people to tell you what's truly important to them.
The AWE question:
And what else? The first answer to the kickstart question is almost never the only answer, and often not the most important answer.
The Focus question:
What's the real challenge here for you? This helps coaches find the real problem and provide support to a team member, rather than jumping to their own conclusion.
The Foundation question:
What do you want? Empowering people means giving them a certain amount of freedom. This question reinforces that freedom and the need for team members to take responsibility.
The Lazy question:
How can I help? This forces colleagues to make a direct request and prevents managers from thinking that they know how best to help.
The Strategic question: If you're saying YES to this, what are you saying NO to?
When team members are taking on new projects or responsibilities, there's great benefit in making them articulate what they're committing to, and what they need to change to be successful.
The Learning question:
What was most useful to you? This is a terrific tactic to help both parties learn from a coaching session. It causes employees to be reflective and underscores the value of the coach/team member relationship.

Asking questions may seem simple but it takes courage to change behavior and practice to master the skill of using questions when coaching. Among the things to keep in mind:
  • Don't beat around the bush, just ask the question. Be straightforward.
  • Don't ask rhetorical questions, which are nothing more than advice thinly disguised as questions.
  • Ask one question at a time and listen carefully. 
  • Ask questions starting with "what." They're less likely than "why" to put people on the defensive and lead to prematurely providing advice.
  • Get comfortable with silence. Don't be desperate to fill the void after asking a question.
Bungay Stanier's book is full of specific advice in how leaders can use these questions wisely and break out of the habit of being the go-to problem solver. If you want to improve your coaching ability, get a copy and read it.  
Want a free copy of the book? Register by February 23 to receive a FREE copy of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.
Building Accountability in Your Workforce

There are people in every organization that use a sense of victimization to justify inaction, excuse ineffectiveness, and fail to develop their talents. Given the thin line that separates an ordinary company from a great one, a leader that helps their staff to greater levels of accountability can make the difference. In that environment, people are more apt to ask a key accountability question: "What else can I do to achieve the desired results?"

One of the best books on the topic is The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Individual and Organizational Accountability, written by a trio of authors, two of which are co-founders of the international consulting firm Partners in Leadership. The title comes from The Wizard of Oz, whose characters eventually realized that their solutions lay within themselves instead of being granted by N all-powerful wizard.

The book identifies an imagined line between victimization and accountability, with circumstances and issues causing individuals to fall Above the Line or Below the Line. People operating Below the Line consciously or unconsciously avoid accountability, trying any number of ways to persuade people they're not at fault. 

Leaders seeking to build greater levels of accountability have to teach and reinforce the difference between Above vs. Below the Line performance. People working Above the Line, for example, acknowledge reality, including all its problems and challenges, own outcomes even when less than desirable, and invite candid feedback. 

The book teaches four steps to accountability:
  • See It—Acknowledge the problem
  • Own It—Assume responsibility for the problem and the results
  • Solve It—Formulate solutions to remedy the situation
  • Do It—Apply the solutions identified

Building accountability into the very fabric of your organization requires:
  • Training everyone, at every level
  • Coaching for accountability
  • Asking Above the Line questions (such as "What can we control and what can't we control in this situation?")
  • Rewarding accountability
  • Holding people accountable when they choose to continue to play the role of the victim
Marcus Nicolls, a senior partner at Partners in Leadership, will be the keynote speaker on April 10 at the 2018 Continuous Improvement Conference. He'll be addressing how to build a culture of accountability within printing companies. Marcus co-authored the 2016 book, Fix It: Getting Accountability Right, the official sequel to The Oz Principle. Watch a video of Marcus discussing the relative benefits of focusing on culture versus strategy.
Assessing Your Operational Performance

A focus on operational excellence needs to be part of any company's strategy for creating a profitable future. Accomplishing this requires a relentless and never-ending mindset of assessing the opportunities for improvement in your operation. The processes, systems, and workflows that touch all areas of the business, including human resources, accounting and administration, and sales and client service, must be scrutinized. This holistic assessment approach should be broken into several broad categories: people, human resources and culture; systems and equipment; operations and workflow; finance and measurement; and quality systems and continuous improvement. Take a closer look at what to look at in each area in the article "Operational Assessments: Why One Should Be in Your Future." The authors also give you 10 questions to ponder when conducting your assessment or having a third party like PIA do it for you. Read the article.

Want to judge your company on its application of Lean principles? Take our Lean Manufacturing Assessment.

Conference Registration

The 2018 Continuous Improvement Conference (April 8-11 in Chicago) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence by using the concepts of Lean manufacturing and other management and quality systems. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking.

Whether you're starting a structured improvement program, or are looking for ways to sustain and improve your existing efforts, the conference has content specifically designed for your knowledge level. There will be 30 speakers, 25 presentations, 7 networking and social sessions, 3 preconference workshops, 2 plant tours, and several hundred attendees.

To learn more about the event, visit

301 Brush Creek, Warrendale, PA 15086, United States
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