Steps leading from Involvement to Excitement

Moving from a culture of compliance to a culture of involvement is a very tough step for leaders. The steps leading from Involvement to Excitement are a little easier but still require some heavy lifting from leaders.

What sorts of things get people excited? Answering that depends a lot on the individual, but generally, the most excited folks I’ve ever seen are sports fans when their teams are winning. Winning in almost any kind of endeavor will have a positive affect on the people experiencing the win. It builds confidence as well, and that has a huge impact on our willingness to participate in the things related to a change initiative.

Winning is very closely associated with competition, so a lot of people think we should set up some kind of competition between our organizational sections to spur that excitement and drive more effective change. But you have to think full-circle about that. In an organization that allows this kind of competition, the results include losers as well as winners. And losing is not exciting. This kind of competition internally is always destructive. As people lose, they either withdraw their support or they undermine the winners so they can look better. Rarely do they tell their colleagues to buck up and try harder. None of this builds trust.

A better way to look at winning is through improvement activities like implementing a suggestion or solving a problem. Whenever you run an activity, you can check the results and make a couple of different decisions: 1) if the result is better performance than before the event, that’s a win. 2) if the result is the same or worse performance than before, that’s a win, if you focus on what you’ve learned and you try again.

You can also have a couple of different teams set up to try different countermeasures and see which works the best, but then have everyone work together to bring everyone up to the new level of performance together.

I often tell a story relating culture change to eating a Tyrannosaurus Rex (bigger and meaner than any elephant!) Of course, the only way to eat a T-Rex is one bite at a time. Where you start matters, though. If you start with the toughest piece and you can’t stand the taste or it’s too tough to chew, you’re going to be reluctant to take another bite. If you start with the tastiest bite, something tender and juicy and easy to swallow, then you’ll want to take another and another. Eventually, you’ll still have to eat the tough pieces, but after you’ve learned things through the tasty pieces, the tough ones are easier to break down and handle.

In practical terms, try hard to break a tough problem down into something easier to solve. Solve a smaller part and celebrate the success. Learn from the activity, then do it again. Every time you solve a problem, you’ll see that people will respond well. You’ll notice more willingness to try the next thing. They will still likely need some coaching and prompting, but after a series of small wins, people will begin to get more and more excited about changing their work to make it better.

To summarize:

1. Ask your folks to help identify problems or offer up some ideas about making their own workspace better. (Nothing very big!)

2. Write down the problems and/or ideas

3. Gather a little more information about the problem or identify the problem that sparked the idea. (Ask who, what, when, where, and how?)

4. Figure out what smaller things are contributing to the problem (ask Why is this happening?)

5. Pick ONE of the smaller things to tackle. Ask why that’s happening, and what are a few different things we can do to solve it.

6. Solve it. FINISH solving it. Measure the result and no matter how small it is, make a big deal out of it.

7. Go back to step 4 and pick the next small thing.

8. Repeat.

Time for a big T-Rex barbecue. Let’s gear up and get busy! Next time will talk about the difference between Excitement and engagement and how we can take those steps.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, send an email to us.

The Big Step from Compliance to Involvement

In my culture evolution diagram, I show a staircase with steps from defiance to compliance, then compliance to involvement, then from involvement to excitement, and finally from excitement to engagement.  The big step from compliance to involvement is likely the most critical to creating a new culture.

It is not that difficult to get people involved.  I’m sure if you ask them to help, they’ll help.  But where I’ve seen this go sideways is when leaders open the doorway with a broad “tell me how we can improve this place” without first having built a couple of systems that will help you handle the flood of input.  See, mixed in with a few really good ideas from the team, you’re also going to get a ton of input you can’t really do anything with.  Things like complaints.  You’ll also get a bunch of ideas that will need some analysis before you know if they’re good ideas or not.

When the flood of input comes and systems are missing, they overwhelm the leadership and cause long delays in feedback to the team.  Let’s just say you get 100 ideas or problems identified every day for a week.  (It may not seem likely to you, but I promise you they are there.) If you haven’t designed, tested, and deployed an idea management system, this will collapse under the volume of input.  The Idea Management System should require evaluation and analysis that includes the person who submitted the idea or surfaced the problem.  If a management team or engineering is supposed to review all the ideas, your program will grind to a halt under this new burden on already very busy people.

Steps to a culture of engagement

When people don’t get feedback on their ideas or problems, they will conclude that management doesn’t listen, or they’re just paying lip service to having people involved.  And then they stop sending you ideas and stop identifying problems.

What kind of system will allow you to handle 100s of ideas and problems everyday?  How hard is it to build?  How much training will everyone have to do?

A Visual Daily Management System provides the structure needed to take this step.  The huddle boards, with the right metrics for the team, will allow problems to surface very quickly.  A problem register let’s everyone know that their problem has been noted and that we’re working to solve it.

We might also want to have an ideas register that has the same effect for those ideas our team members want to share.  The more visual we can make the ideas and problems, and the more we focus on keeping involved the person who submitted thC4 Board for capturing problems and idease idea or problem, the better.  I really like the results we’ve been getting with C4 Boards in several companies.  On these boards, there’s a column for New, then to indicate where the team is in the various stages of problem solving.

Most places still have some trust issues throughout the organization, but it’s our job to make it a little better day by day in many places.  Making the involvement of our team members more visible will only serve to improve the trust.  It will also pave the way to excitement and provide a strong foundation for full engagement.


If you have any questions or comments about this topic, send an email to us.

Culture – Stepping up toward engagement

I have had some interesting and fun discussions with people about culture – stepping up toward engagement in different workshops I’ve facilitated.

One thing that has struck me is how many people will think about a small part of an organization, like one of the sections within a division, recall several people in that section and how excited they seem or how involved they are and conclude that their organization has a culture that matches.  Similarly, many people equate their own level of engagement and attribute that to the whole of the organization.

Culture takes years to develop and years to change

Most companies have been building cultures of compliance for decades.  The ability to use the “rules” to halt an improvement idea is one of the hallmarks of a culture of compliance.  It is so easy to stop something.  Much easier than pushing through all the layers and forms and structures and approvals, etc. that have to happen to make even relatively simple things like hiring or buying something very difficult and frustrating.  But for those of you who’ve worked at one place for a while, it’s just become the way things are.  For the most part, things work (eventually,) and so we roll with the punches and keep things going.

Sadly, this kind of culture will limit our ability to serve the needs of our customers in the future, as resources may become tighter, talent harder to acquire, and expansive growth marching on.  We have to find better ways to do our work.

We could rely on leaders to drive the changes required to reach the next step in our cultural evolution.  I’m sure we can make significant progress this way, but the real jackpot rests in our ability to engage the entire workforce in sharing ideas for better processes.  We can’t wish our way there.

Action Steps

Here are some things that will need to happen to begin changing course:

  1. Leaders have to understand how to engage their team members, and that to even get started, they have to let go of the notion that they know better than the workforce.
  2. Make physical changes to the work flow and layout in offices across the state to require new and different ways to work.
  3. Build structures that allow everyone to see how they are performing against daily expectations.
  4. Set daily expectations for the entire workforce.
  5. Teach people to recognize problems when they occur and deliberately solve them with a standard process.
  6. Listen more and direct less.

A Daily Management System will help with numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5.  Numbers 1 and 6 are on us.

Let’s agree to start by working our way from Compliance to Involvement.  Drive fear out by treating everyone with respect and asking for their help.  To get this started, it’s as simple as that.

Read more on leader behaviors here:

For a couple of my favorite sources for this, get Toyota Culture, by Jeff Liker and Mike Hoseus, and The Toyota Engagement Equation, by Tracey and Ernie Richardson.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, send an email to us.

From a culture of defiance to a culture of engagement
Steps to a culture of engagement

Sunflower Leadership

I grew up growing gardens.  On one end of the garden or another, we always planted a row of sunflowers.  We usually planted them to protect the rest of the garden:  maybe to attract birds away from food crops; maybe to provide shade to some of the more sun-sensitive plants.

If you’ve never seen a sunflower, you should know that from above, they are beautiful, happy-looking, bright and cheery yellow or gold flowers.  From below, not so much.  The underside is rough and dark.  The stalk is thick and somewhat prickly.

Sunflowers look great from above. From below…not so much!

If I can use this as a metaphor for leader behaviors, I’m certain you’ve encountered leaders who look great from above (from the senior leaders view), but maybe not from below (the view from their teams.)  The result is usually fear.  The leader is afraid that their team will do something that will tarnish the view the senior leader has and might threaten his or her upward mobility.  As a result, they will tend to tighten their perceived control over the team.  This might take the shape of a directive that prevents the team from communicating with anyone outside the team, unless previously cleared by this “leader.”

These types of leaders are often very difficult to spot and coach from the senior leader view.  Every one-on-one interaction you might have with him/her typically results in the sunflower bending over backwards to make sure you’re happy.  And that feels pretty good from where you’re sitting so the camouflage works.  If you then go out into their work area (on a gemba walk for example) the team is so afraid of retribution from the sunflower that they will say very little, often as the sunflower jumps in to answer questions or ask what he/she thinks you want to hear.  So the defensive mechanism works and again camouflages the truth.

In compliant cultures, this leadership style is often prevalent, sustaining the culture through fear.  How can we see the truth?  Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Notice when your subordinate leaders work hard to be agreeable. Do they ask questions of you to clarify what you really need, or do they rush to say they can make it happen?
  2. On gemba walks, do they intervene when you ask questions of team members? Notice the body language of the team members.  Do they avoid eye contact?  Do they defer to the leader?  Do they subtly roll their eyes or otherwise disengage when their leader is talking?
  3. Do they go out of their way to emphasize the green on the boards instead of the red? It is human nature to want to focus on things that are going well, but in AMS we have to be able to see the problems with no camouflage.
  4. Do they blame their team or others for less than perfect results?

What then can you do to begin the process of changing this type of behavior?

  1. First and always, continue to show respect. Acknowledge the value they bring to the organization.  Acknowledge their skill level.  Acknowledge their contributions to date.
  2. Directly address what you see with the team. Ask them if they have restricted their team’s ability to communicate, coordinate, or collaborate.  Explain how this creates the fear and animosity that we are trying hard to dispel (Explain how this behavior is a problem that we need to solve.)
  3. Ask them what you have done to cause them to feel they have to constantly “look good” and if you can change anything about your leadership style that might help them come along.
  4. Ask them to specifically recognize the contributions of the team for anything that comes to you for review, approval, or recognition.
  5. Continue to work the connections with the team members during gemba walks. Hold open dialogs with the leader and the team then afterwards, ask the leader to model your behavior in dealing with their people.

Now for the hard part.  If you see yourself in the description above, don’t deny it and run from it.  Own it.  Then do these 5 things:

  1. Recognize this as a problem (not that YOU are the problem, but the behavior).
  2. Think through all the things that might be causing you to behave this way.
  3. Talk to your people and to your leader and ask for their help in defining one thing you can change that might make you more effective as a leader.
  4. Put that one thing on your Personal Development Plan and complete the rest of the process to make that transformation plan something you can follow.
  5. Let go of the need to control everything. Trust your team to do their best work, and continue to support them with your attention and respect.

We want our organization to improve and flourish.  Leaders who direct their attention toward their leaders instead of toward their people and their customers prevent that.  It locks us into the culture of compliance we’re trying to break out of.  To get the best work out of our people, they have to love being there.  Leaders can grow this or kill this with relative ease.


If you have any questions or comments about this topic, send an email to us.



Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind about something when they were really certain about what they were doing or what they believed?  You know it’s impossible.  But frequently we talk about culture change in an agency or organization.  Culture is the collective way of thinking and doing things in a group.  In other words, to change a culture, you have to change the way people think.  But didn’t we just agree that’s impossible?

As humans, scientists have shown that prior to any action we take, there is a conscious thought and a decision we make to do whatever that action may be.  That thought might be fleeting.  It might be impaired.  It might be flawed, but it exists nevertheless.  We don’t do anything without deciding or choosing to do it.

Of course, after we take the action we’ve decided to take, there’s always some consequence, either good or bad.  That consequence then should force us to learn something that is likely to influence our decision the next time I have to take that or a similar action.  We should have learned from that consequence, and that should affect the way we think.

Cycle of Human Behavior
Cycle of Human Behavior

In a working organization, the behavior I want to focus on is daily work.  The behavior leaders look for is competent performance of the assigned task.  In a compliant culture, that is all we want.  But in a lean culture, or on our journey to a culture of engagement, that’s just the start.  Our real desire is that the people doing the work actually think about how they do it and find better ways to do it as a result.  They think differently.

If we tell our people what to do and how to do it, we are guilty of propagating a culture of compliance.  And that’s what makes this so hard.  Many leaders simply don’t believe they can take the time to teach someone else how to complete a task properly in the allocated amount of time.  They will justify their actions by saying things like “I just want it done right, so I do it myself.”

If leaders continue to DO these kinds of things, they don’t have time to do what we most need them to do – lead.  To change the way these leaders think, we have to change the way they work (their behavior) and we have to change the consequences to ensure that the right behavior receives a positive result, and the wrong behavior is brought to light and corrected.

On your gemba walks and during your 1 on 1 coaching sessions, look for leaders who seem too busy doing work, and help them see that by doing work their teams should be doing, they lose the opportunity to lead – to challenge, to support, to correct, and to encourage.  Help them let go of thinking only they can produce the right quality work and set them on the right path to continue to change the culture.


If you have questions or would like to share a comment or story about this topic, send an email to us at



Reference, Leadersights Workshop Session 1, Slide 16.

Managing and Leading

Managing and Leading

In my Leadersights workshop, we talk a little about the differences between leadership and management.  There are lots of different takes on this age-old debate.  Many of us have “Manager” in our job title, and generally that means we have people who report to us and for whom we assign work, assess performance, and write annual performance reviews.

Assigning work, assessing performance, and writing reviews are all “management” tasks.  But the only things we should manage are the processes that allow us to effectively do these tasks.  These tasks are not “Leadership” tasks.  Managers manage processes, but leaders lead people.  If instead we try to manage people, we usually fail as leaders.

As a quick example of that, think about the traits and behaviors of your best boss and worst boss.

One of the most consistent items that groups shared under the “Worst Boss” list is micromanaging.  When we think of micromanaging, from a staff perspective this is anytime the boss noses in and wants to know every detail about what you’re doing on a particular task, how you’re doing it, and how much time you’re taking on it.  Often, managers will tell staff not to do something one way and to specifically do it the way the manager tells them to do it.

From the manager’s perspective, we might think we’re actually helping our staff by knowing what is going on and saving them time by telling them how to do a job.

What looks to you as the manager like doing you job, feels to your staff that you’re controlling and suppressing their creativity; that you think you know how to do their job better than they do; and that you don’t trust them to do the job properly without your “sage wisdom.”  In other words, you’re a micromanaging jerk.

So as LEADERS, we need to understand the staff perspective and change our behavior if they perceive that we are micromanaging.  Let me be clear…It is NOT okay for you to be a micromanager.  You have to stop telling people how to do everything and let go of the control so they can be free to find better ways to complete their work.

If we view a manager’s tendency to micromanage as a problem and apply our C4 problem solving process to solve this, first we’d need to clarify what we’re doing that is seen as micromanaging, so that will allow us to define the problem more specifically.  I’ve kind of describe the most salient parts in previous paragraphs.  Next, we find the causes.

What’s causing you to be a micromanager?

It might be something you don’t consciously realize:  FEAR.  You may be subconsciously afraid to let go because you’ve been burned by people failing in the past.

It could also be EGO.  You may subconsciously believe that you have superior skills or knowledge that your staff should take advantage of.

Both of these will work together to show that you simply don’t TRUST your team to do their work without you.

The result is that 1) you are overburdened because you have to keep track of every little thing, which ends ups adding extra stress to your life; and 2) that your people resent that you are always micromanaging.  And as I said, you may not even be aware of it.

So how do we countermeasure this problem?

  1. Acknowledge the possibility that you’re a micromanager and that your people likely resent it.
  2. Ask your people to help you see when you enter the micromanaging space so you can step back and reframe your next actions. For this to work, you can’t retaliate or even defend your actions.  Thank them for the feedback.
  3. Ensure that the tasks you’ve assigned are clear, but don’t specify a method for completing the task. Let them do it.  If it’s a critical issue, remind them of any constraints (contractual, statutory, etc.) and tell them you are willing to help them if they need it.
  4. Let them do it and get out of the way. Don’t abandon them, but don’t constantly interfere.
  5. If it’s a task that is very important to you, find a way for them to post their daily status on a visual board that you can see when you want.

Your relationships with staff will improve if you’re truly open to letting go. You’ll have the opportunity to learn how capable and creative your hard-working staff can be, and you’ll have time to think about better ways to remove the barriers to human development that come doing important work.

If you have questions or would like to share a comment or story about this topic, send me an email.

Fear and Change “Management”?

“Managing” change is not overcoming resistance, but overcoming fear. Change brings ambiguity and we fear the things we don’t understand.  With that in mind, “Do it or else” will never lead to real change.  When people question a change, that isn’t resistance; it’s human to need to understand why.  Leaders who pay lip service to a change initiative are the primary cause of failure.

If you are a leader but don’t understand the vision or the plan, you need to ask and learn.  If you don’t become a believer, you’ll be the biggest problem.  There’s only one good solution to that problem so it’s better to become a believer.

Insist that your leaders explain clearly where they want to go so you can support the change they propose.  Ask lots of questions and help them answer them.  Many leaders haven’t paid those dues yet.  They need to.

Here are a few things you can do to overcome fear in the workplace:

  1. Spend much more time in the gemba. Be curious about everything.  Ask more questions, but make sure you ask as if you really want to know the answer, not to grill someone about what they know.
  2. Be more transparent.  Make your personal leadership development goals public. (what are YOU going to do differently!) Always give fully truthful answers to the questions people ask.  This can be very difficult.  Sometimes the best truthful answer is “I haven’t finished working that out yet; what do you think we should do about it?”  If there is a security or sensitivity issue, say so.
  3. Make better plans and get input from as many people as you can while you’re making them, but do it quickly.  Make decisions as quickly as possible using as much data as possible.  Make the plans visible (put them on your daily management board)
  4. Spend more time encouraging than correcting.  Don’t go looking for things that people are doing wrong; look for things people are doing right.

Changing Leader Behaviors

With some excellent help, I’ve built a leadership development workshop (called Leadersights after my book) to provide a quick jumpstart to reenergize any organization’s leader development efforts.  We’re running it for 1400 plus leaders in a government agency in Arizona and getting great results.  I’ll be posting some of what is included in the workshop here to remind folks what’s most important.

There are four outcomes of our Leadersights workshop series. They are simple and direct:

  1.  Put the needs of others above your own – Love
  2.  Develop curious leaders for the future – Learn
  3.  Empower your teams – Let go
  4.  Attract people to your team – Connect

To say that these are just the outcomes of the workshop fails to capture what we are really after. We need leaders to change. We need leaders to quit bullying, controlling, dominating, yelling, intimidating, avoiding, complying, blaming, belittling, etc our people and each other. I would like to say this is pretty rare in most organizations, but I know it isn’t. Even when our intentions are good, sometimes the heat of a crisis or a failure can bring out the worst of any of us.

In the workshop, participants work up a list of the best and worst bosses they’ve ever had.  We encourage them to reflect carefully about this because what they were really describing is themselves. But we did it in a way that gave them the ability to separate their own behavior as a leader from that of the imaginary boss each group created for this exercise.  For you as a reader, the charge is to become truly self-aware.  Only then can we improve as leaders.

No one likes to be told they aren’t a good leader or a good boss. I get that. I don’t like it either. But if every leader in your workplace fit the best boss list, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

A team works to complete their marshmallow challenge

My goal is to make sure you are thinking hard about the way you lead. I’m not going to tell you that you are a good boss or a bad boss. Leadersights wants to help you become a more effective leader. So despite what you already know about being a leader, we want you to act as if you are the person you described as the worst boss, and do something about it.

Four things: Love, learn, let go, connect. Go do something today to improve one of these.

What To Do When Your Lean Guy Is A Concrete Head

Concrete head is an affectionate term applied by some old Japanese lean sensei to people in US companies who, though responsible for driving continuous improvement, were themselves resistant to change anything for any number of reasons. 

I’ve run into this a few times, where the “lean guy” for a company is oppositional on any idea that he didn’t come up with.  Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s blatant. Most of the time, I find the resistance is couched in terms of “what if…” For any of us, it’s exceptionally easy to find ways to make any idea seem like it won’t work.  All we have to do is ask “what if [insert rare phenomenon] happens?” 

Fortunately, in these situations, the leader has usually stepped up and demanded that we make it work.  That seems to be the only way to push through the lean concrete head. His boss (her boss) needs to have the will to insist that we drive forward.  If the leader defers, it might be best to find someplace else to work.

Trust – A Necessary Component To Stay Competitive

Without trust, organizations can’t function at a level required to remain competitive.  Those that don’t need to be competitive, like government agencies, are unable to deliver service as effectively because without trust, employees can’t do whatever they need to do to solve the problems that citizens bring to them.

Without trust, there is usually fear.  Fear paralyzes organizations.  In the face of years of fear, employees become accustomed to doing just what they need to do to stay out of trouble, instead of really trying to fix broken processes or push the limits of the rules so they can satisfy some customer need.

Overcoming this formidable barrier is not impossible.  It takes a determined and committed approach, though.  When I say committed, I mean you have to be ready to stay with your vision for years as you chip away, little by little at the structures that have been built to preserve the fear.  You can’t just go in with some good intention and a little training and expect anything to change.

Every day you have to push back against the status quo.  This will make you pretty unpopular too.  So the only thing that can possibly sustain you through this unpleasant journey is love.  That is the only thing that will allow you to continue to value everyone as people, in spite of very limited reciprocation.

“Trusting another person means that 1) whatever value I claim for myself in interactions with that person will be understood and accepted, and 2) the other person will not take advantage of me or use my revealed information to my disadvantage. In any given relationship, the level of intimacy will reflect the degree to which the parties have learned to trust each other as they each reveal more about themselves.” (Edgar Schein, Helping)