All posts by David Maxfield

Influencer QA

How to Make Crucial Conversations Part of Your Culture

Dear David,

I work for a global manufacturing company. We are in the process of redefining our workplace culture and recognize that one of the key business behaviors we need to develop, at every level, is the ability to effectively have crucial conversations. What recommendations do you have for creating a workplace ‘movement’ that influences the frequency and effectiveness of crucial conversations?

Signed,
Looking Forward

Dear Looking,

Your question is one we’ve studied, tracked, and evaluated over many years. The good news is that you can succeed at making the behaviors to “speak up” and “hold others accountable” into organizational norms. The other good news is that, when you do, it has a profoundly positive impact on all aspects of performance.

I’ll describe the approach we use to build these norms.

Begin with a compelling business case.
Work with senior leaders to identify a tangible goal that is undeniable and irresistible, a goal that everyone will unite around. We ask them to select a priority that is important enough to demand at least 20 percent of their time. Then we ask them to make sure the link between “speaking up” and achieving the goal is clear. Below are a few examples:

    • Hospital: Achieve hand hygiene compliance of 95 percent or better. You must speak up whenever you see someone fail to wash his/her hands.
    • Factory: Manage capacity and resource constraints in a way that prevents any delays in deliveries to customers. You must speak up whenever you see a situation that could put a customer delivery at risk.
    • Mine: Eliminate accidents that cause serious injuries and deaths. You must speak up whenever you see unsafe behavior or an unsafe situation.

Having a specific goal for “speaking up” will smoke out two kinds of people: People who don’t want to have to speak up and people who don’t want others to speak up to them. The fact that the goal is compelling, undeniable, and irresistible means leaders can have an on-the-bus or off-the-bus conversation with these resisters.

Socialize the business case. Sometimes the business case is obvious. But usually it’s important to have leaders discuss the case with groups of opinion leaders. Here are some of the questions we have the leaders ask to get the conversations going.

  1. Our Brand: What are we known for? Why do customers come to us, instead of to our competition? What is it about our goods or services that allow us to charge premium pricing? What kinds of failures would put our brand/reputation at risk?
  2. Our Environment: What threats and opportunities does the organization face? What changes in the environment (to customers, technology, competitors, regulations, workforce, etc.) do we need to master?
  3. Our Ability to Execute: What are our organization’s strengths and weaknesses? Strengths: Successful change, positive project execution, organic growth, etc. Weaknesses: Stalled initiatives; areas of stagnant growth; investments that are underperforming; projects that miss budgets, timelines, or specs; imperfect collaboration between units, regions, or functions; customer service issues; etc.

These conversations help leaders explain their business strategy and specific priorities. Below are two examples:

  • Healthcare System: The senior team described their brand as, “A destination health provider that serves a multistate region.” This strategy guided their capital spending: they purchased an insurance company, bought more than a dozen community hospitals, and built a cancer center, heart center, spine center, and children’s hospital. It certainly took more than 20 percent of their time. The CEO described “speaking up” and “universal accountability” as the essential glue that binds everything together.
  • Manufacturing Manager: This leader described her brand as, “We use mass customization to appeal to multiple niche markets.” Her plant needed to deliver personalized products with the cost and scale of mass manufacturing. She developed an incredibly flexible and responsive system where the lynchpins were “speaking up” and “universal accountability.”

Notice how these business cases present Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability as “means to an end” rather than as “ends in and of themselves.” They position these skills as essential, not nice to have.

Ask leaders to lead. It’s tempting for leaders to delegate initiatives to skilled support functions, such as Human Resources or Learning & Development. But norms are set from the top, so leaders need to be more actively involved. Below are three actions we ask leaders to take.

  • Involve both formal and informal leaders. Senior leaders must influence through others. In particular, they need the understanding, commitment, and buy in from two groups: formal leaders and informal leaders. Formal leaders include anyone with supervisory responsibilities; informal leaders include opinion leaders, employees who may not have any formal authority, but have the trust and respect of their peers. Senior leaders need to spend a disproportionate amount of their time with these two groups.
  • Develop an accountability/measurement system that keeps people’s feet to the fire. Senior leaders must hold themselves accountable for results.
  • Build motivation and ability within your chains of command. We ask leaders to lead the influence efforts. That’s why we have them facilitate the discussions that explain the business case. We also ask them to lead (or help lead) any training that’s involved. These investments of time and prestige will convince others of the priority they set on speaking up.


Combine all Six Sources of Influence™.
I don’t have the space here to review the methods taught in our book, Influencer. But I will remind you that initiatives that combine four or more (preferably all six) Sources of Influence are ten times more likely to succeed. As a quick reminder, the Six Sources of Influence are:

  1. Personal Motivation: Will—Is speaking up seen as a moral imperative?
  2. Personal Ability: Skill—Do people have the skills to speak up in the toughest situations?
  3. Social Motivation: Encouragement—Do people’s managers and peers ask and encourage them to speak up?
  4. Social Ability: Support—Do people’s managers and peers support them when they try to speak up?
  5. Structural Motivation: Incentives—Does speaking up affect performance reviews, promotions, pay, etc.?
  6. Structural Ability: Tools—Do people have the opportunities, cues, and other tools they need to speak up?

Make sure all Six Sources of Influence are aligned in your favor, that they all support speaking up. Hope this helps.

Best of luck,
David

SURVEY: High Potential, Low Performance. What Gives?

We’ve all had team members or direct reports who have the talent, but still fail to perform. We’re looking to measure the “lost potential” managers and colleagues suspect exists within their teams.

Share your perspective in our short, three-minute survey. Thank you for taking the time to participate in our research.

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at www.vitalsmarts.com/events.

Crucial Accountability QA

Don’t Agree On The Facts? How to Dialogue Anyway

Dear David,

As a certified trainer, I want to be prepared to answer students’ questions. In talking about separating facts from stories, the question came up: “What if people disagree about what each person said?” For example, I say to my son: “You said you would pick up milk on the way home.” He responds with: “I never said that.” Obviously, situations at work are more high stakes than picking up milk, but I’d love some advice on what to do when the facts are disputed.

Fact or Fiction

Dear Fact or Fiction,

Great question. In most disagreements, we expect our facts to be accepted—at least if we’ve stripped them of any conclusions, judgments, or stories. The idea is that facts are facts because they can be measured, witnessed, and replicated by anyone. Facts should be an area of agreement both parties can build on. That’s why our STATE skill is all about Starting with Facts.

However, as your example shows, people don’t always agree about the facts. I’ll suggest four different situations that result in factual disputes and outline strategies for dealing with each.

1. Trust Is at Risk. The high-stakes situation you describe with your son isn’t about milk. It’s about trust. If you don’t frame the problem correctly, you’ll end up talking about the wrong facts. Fortunately, there is a tool you can use to determine which aspect of a problem to address. We call the tool CPR.

  • C stands for Content. By “content” we mean the immediate incident or presenting problem. You’d have a content issue if your main concern is the missing milk. If this was a one-time occurrence, you might accept your son’s version of the facts. Maybe you only thought he said he’d pick up the milk.
  • P stands for Pattern. This is the conversation if your concern is for the “pattern” of disputed facts. You’d have a pattern issue if your son has repeatedly denied agreements you thought you had. You can imagine mishearing once, but not multiple times. The facts would include two or three instances of these discrepancies. Beyond these facts, you’d add your opinion that these instances fit together as a pattern.
  • R stands for Relationship. This is the conversation if your real concern is the “relationship.” You’d have a relationship issue if the incident or pattern has caused you to question whether you can trust your son. Your misgivings are a fact that your son needs to hear and address.

The mistake most people make is to focus on content—the facts related to a single incident—when their real concern is with the pattern or relationship. A related mistake is to allow the other person to drag a pattern or relationship conversation back to the details of each individual incident. When a conversation begins to get sidetracked by details, I use a script such as, “I don’t want to get into the details of any single incident. Instead, I want to focus on the overall pattern and how it affects our relationship.”

2. Trust Is Low. When trust is low and you don’t trust each other’s facts, you need verification—an agreement about how facts will be substantiated.

These kinds of verification procedures are very costly. They move you from “handshake deals” to “legal contracts” and from “self policing” to “external enforcement.”

Here is an example of verification in an environment of low trust: I was facilitating a negotiation exercise with an MBA class at Stanford and two of the teams were struggling with trust. Then one of the students threw his car keys on the table and declared, “If the instructor says I’ve lied, then your team gets my car.” His ploy worked. The two teams reached an agreement, he lived up to his side of the deal—and he got to keep his car.

3. It’s Debate, Not Dialogue. Dialogue is about adding facts to a Pool of Shared Meaning. Debate is about using facts to win an argument. When people begin to value winning over finding the truth, they use facts as pawns in their game. You begin to see them cherry picking, distorting, and denying the facts.

When you see debate, try to get back to dialogue. Dialogue requires two elements: A Mutual Purpose that both parties see as more important than any particular disagreement, and Mutual Respect that is felt by all sides. If you have a Mutual Purpose, use it to reframe the debate as dialogue. If you don’t have a Mutual Purpose, seek to find or invent one. And, in any case, demonstrate Respect.

If you can’t move to dialogue, then you’re stuck in a low trust environment where verification is required. Delegate fact-finding to a neutral party, use joint fact-finding, and incur all the costs that verification entails.

4. It’s Complicated. Sometimes it’s not the facts but what the facts add up to that is under dispute. Complex situations almost always entail a more sophisticated theory. The disagreement might be over the theory, not the facts.

In Crucial Conversations, we suggest separating facts—the basic verifiable evidence—from your story. Your story is your theory about what the facts mean. With complex issues—for example, “Will this policy improve learning?” or, “Has this change in taxes produced economic growth?”—the stories/theories are often presented as facts.

Sometimes, the theory deserves to be treated as a fact, because, like the theory of gravity, it is so thoroughly validated (of course, even in this example, we don’t know all there is to know about gravity).

Other times, the theory is still unsettled or disputed. Or, it’s settled and treated as fact by experts but has not gained public acceptance.

In these situations, it’s still very helpful to separate facts from stories. For example, it’s a fact that streets in Miami Beach flood far more today than they did ten years ago. Citizens there don’t need to agree on climate change or global warming to know they have a problem on their hands.

I hope these examples help you answer the questions you get.

Best of luck,
David

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at www.vitalsmarts.com/events.

Influencer QA

What To Do When Coworkers Monopolize Your Meetings

Dear David,

I work at a university where there is significant group work in the form of meetings or committees. In some of these meetings, a few people have a significant and vocal opinion about every agenda item. Every single one, every single time. I’ve noticed that these opinionated individuals speak to the point of soap boxing. Those of us who are indifferent or aren’t as vocal have grown tired of waiting our turn and check out of the meeting. It feels rather unproductive and pointless to hold a meeting since these gatherings are no longer about hearing from everyone but about hearing from the vocal minority. In addition, it has become an unsafe environment to voice a dissenting opinion—creating a lot of tension. What suggestions would you have to break up this meeting monopoly?

Sincerely,
Exasperated

Dear Exasperated,

I think we can all relate to your situation: sitting in endless meetings that accomplish little other than destroying participants’ motivation and morale. And certain kinds of environments foster the worst kinds of meetings where people act as if they were at a debating society or a congressional committee meeting. The good news is that fixing meetings is relatively straightforward. I’ll suggest a few actions for getting started.

Take ownership for the meeting.
One thing I’ve noticed about bad meetings is that everyone hates them, but few take responsibility for their failures. Begin by recognizing that your acceptance of bad norms reinforces those very norms. Change this situation by meeting with the meeting leader and suggesting the changes I’m going to recommend—as well as any other changes you believe would help. Don’t blame the leader for the bad meetings. You are all responsible and must all work together to create new norms.

Name the problems and create ground rules.
Create a list of the problem behaviors that derail your current meetings. Be prepared to describe the impacts these behaviors have on decisions, wasted time, and morale. And think about a small number of ground rules that would prevent these problem behaviors. Try to limit the ground rules to five or less.

Schedule a special meeting or agenda item to discuss these problem behaviors and proposed ground rules. Use this meeting to model the ground rules you’d like to see adopted. Your goal is to get buy-in for testing the ground rules. Post a sign that labels the problem behaviors and the ground rules. Be open to changing the ground rules as you see which of them work and which don’t.

Example: “One of our problems is a lack of balance in participation. Some people tend to dominate, while others don’t say anything. As a ground rule, let’s limit comments to two minutes and check in with people who haven’t spoken up.”

Use an agenda with topics and time limits.
Every meeting participant should receive an agenda at least a day in advance. This is especially important when you have introverts and others who prefer to prepare in advance, rather than speak off the cuff. In addition to beginning and ending times, the agenda should have time estimates for each topic. Participants and the meeting leader must then use these time limits to manage time during the meeting.

Example: A meeting participant says, “We only have 10 minutes left on this item. We haven’t heard from Suzy and John. Why don’t we get their perspective and then move on.”

Decide how to decide.
Many of the problems I’ve seen in meetings stem from confusion over what participants are being asked to provide. Often, there is misunderstanding over who owns the decision rights. Are team members being asked for their input, or does the team have the authority to make the decision? If they do own the decision, how do they decide among options?

Make the decision process clear for each topic on the agenda. The main alternatives are:

  • Command: The decision has already been made and the team is being informed about it. Often the decision maker wants the team’s help in implementing the decision.
  • Consult: Team members are being asked for their input. They may help to identify and evaluate options, but they won’t be making the actual decision.
  • Vote: The team is making the decision and is voting to decide among options. Voting favors efficiency over dialogue, so it only works when all team members feel they can support whichever option wins. In my experience, voting is rarely used.
  • Consensus: Talk until everyone honestly agrees to one decision. Consensus is appropriate only when dealing with a.) High-stakes and complex issues, or b.) Issues where everyone must support the final choice.

Example: The participant who has a particular topic on the agenda says, “This is a consult. I want your input on . . . ”

Hold each other accountable. Don’t rely exclusively on the meeting leader to keep the meeting on track. Participants need to speak up when they see problem behaviors and to remind others of the ground rules.

Example: “John, we’ve heard from you already. Let’s stick to the two-minute rule and see what others might add. If there’s time, we can come back to you.”

Tips on stopping soapboxing.
I’m guilty of this myself. I enjoy thinking on my feet and I talk when I’m thinking through an idea. I don’t mean to dominate. Not really.

Here are some tips to stop people like me from doing all the talking.

  • Take notes on a white board or flip chart. Document the person’s point, and then stop them from repeating him or herself. Paraphrasing can serve this same purpose, but isn’t as effective as writing down what the person has said.
  • Give everyone two-minutes of silence to think about, and write down, their ideas on a topic.
  • Use a two-minute speaking rule to force people to be concise.
  • After the person has spoken, have several others give their input before allowing the first person to speak again.
  • Ask the person to provide further input after the meeting, perhaps in writing.

This is a topic that is familiar to many readers. Can everyone pitch in to help by sharing your best tips for keeping meetings effective, efficient, and on track? To share your best meeting tips, comment below.

Best of luck in getting your meetings back on track.

Sincerely,
David

Getting Things Done QA

How to Manage it All

NOTE FROM EDITOR: We are excited to announce the launch of our brand new training course, Getting Things Done®. In the month of August, we will be highlighting the skills and principles from Getting Things Done in our author Q&A article. Enjoy!

Dear David,

What is the best way to manage both work responsibilities and personal responsibilities? So much is required of me at the office that I feel like I put all my energy and attention into getting work done only to arrive home at the end of the day with little gas left in the tank to give to my family. In reality, they are my bigger priority, but receive less of my time and attention because I just can’t seem to manage it all. Any advice?

Sincerely,
Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed,

Thanks for a very timely question! We just finished a major research study on this very topic. And the news is good! We discovered a relatively small number of changes you can make that will increase your productivity and reduce your stress—at both work and home.

We began by having 1,594 people rate their employees and peers from highest to lowest performer on a scale from 1 to 10, where the 10’s are the best. Then we asked two questions:

How much more valuable is a 10 than an average employee or teammate? The answer was, “Two to three times more valuable.” The 10’s account for more than half the work done in a team or department.
How do the 10’s do it? The answer was, “They work both harder and smarter, but mostly smarter.” In fact, an overwhelming number of their managers and peers said that the 10’s work habits actually reduce their stress.
We also collected thousands of descriptions of what 10’s do to be successful, and looked for the most common phrases. Here is what we found.

Communication Practices

• Top Performers: “They ask for help”, “Not afraid to ask questions”, “Know who to go to”, “Know when to ask for”
• Average Performers: “Lack of communication”, “Slow to respond”, “They don’t listen”, “They complain about”
Productivity Practices

• Top Performers: “They are organized”, “Good time management”, “Attention to detail”, “Very well organized”, “Keep track of what needs to be done” “Stay on top of their work”
• Average Performers: “Lack of attention”, “Lack of focus”, “Don’t follow through”, “Too busy”, “They are late”, “They are disorganized”, “Don’t meet deadlines”, “Not on task”

The communication practices will be familiar to those of you who’ve read Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, or Change Anything. However, the productivity practices comprise a wholly different set of skills.

For the last two years, we’ve been studying ways to improve personal productivity practices. Our guide has been David Allen, the author of the bestseller, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. So, we did a second study that put these practices to the test.

We began by using David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD®) principles to build an assessment that measures personal productivity practices. Next, we had 2,072 managers and employees complete the assessment, and tested how well it predicted their productivity and stress.

I need to get a bit technical to describe what we found: We used three methods to measure the impact GTD practices had.

1. A step-wise multiple regression analysis showed that the GTD practices improves Performance (R = .79) and reduces Stress (R = .78). These high “R values” mean that using these practices determine more than 60 percent of the difference between high and low performance and high and low stress.

2. T-Tests showed that people with high GTD scores had 68 percent higher performance and experienced less than half the stress of people with low GTD scores.

3. Item analyses showed the remarkable impacts GTD practices have. Here are a few of the items that grabbed our attention:

  • People with high GTD scores are 55 times less likely to say, “I start projects that never get finished, even when others are relying on me.”
  • They are 13 times less likely to say, “I’m not truly present at home, because I’m thinking about work and wondering if there are other things I should be worrying about.”
  • They are 18 times less likely to say, “I often feel overwhelmed. I start to think of tasks looming over me and that are about to crash.”
  • It was exciting to see the impact of David Allen’s five GTD practices. Their impact on both Performance and Stress are off the charts.

Three ideas for helping you at work and at home

I can’t teach you the entire GTD approach. For that, I recommend reading the book or taking our new Getting Things Done Training program. But I can give you a few big ideas that are proven winners.

1. Capture everything that comes in and out of your head. My favorite David Allen quote is, “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” Use a small number of capture tools, instead of relying on your memory. I use three simple tools: a pad of Post-It Notes, my email inbox, and a pad of lined paper. Whenever I have an idea, get an assignment, or remember a to-do, I capture it using one of these three tools. Having a reliable way of catching everything coming at me gives me peace of mind that nothing is slipping through the cracks.

2. Clarify everything in your in box, from top to bottom. Go through all of your capture tools at least once every day or two, and determine a next action for each item. Personally, I do this at the end of every workday. I go through the items in order, deciding what needs to be done with each one. This means I never use my email or notes as storage bins. I get my inboxes to zero before I quit for the day. Trust me, it feels like a little victory every time I do this.

3. Take stock once a week. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself every week to catch up, get current, and align with your priorities. I spend an hour every Sunday night reviewing my past week, and planning my next. This is when I make sure my actions line up with my priorities, purpose, and values. This hour does more for me than any yoga method, meditation, or cocktail. It leaves me feeling renewed, energized, and confident that I’m on track.

Try these three practices. They take some discipline, but produce immediate payoffs.

Best of luck,
David

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Get Respect From the Boss

Dear David,

My boss and I have weekly one-on-one meetings. During these meetings, he frequently takes phone calls from his family, gets up in the middle of a discussion to use his personal restroom, and allows workers to just barge in to talk to him. I’m very frustrated with these interactions but he is the owner of the company and I am a new manager. I’ve discussed it with my peers, but the general consensus is it’s always been this way and he will not change. What can I say to still remain respectful and professional, yet help him understand how devalued this makes me feel?

Sincerely,
New Guy

Dear New Guy,

Thanks for your question. As I see it, this may be a difficult situation to change. The owner has a lot of leeway, and you aren’t describing any overtly hostile behaviors. Begin by asking yourself whether you’re accurately reading your boss’s intent.

Examine your Story: You’re telling yourself a story about his behavior—that his actions are intended to disrespect you. As a result, you feel devalued. Ask yourself the following two questions:

• Do you have all the facts you need to be confident your story is true?
• Is there any other, more positive, story that could fit this same set of facts?
Here are two attempts at different stories:

Story #1: From your boss’s perspective, the company is an extension of his home, and his office is his living room. When he invites you in for your weekly chat, it’s as if you are a guest in his home. He’s not trying to make you feel bad. He’s treating you with the same respect he would any one who entered his home.

Story #2: Your boss wants his company to feel like family, where he is the patriarch. As a result, he downplays some of the professional, impersonal, sterile business practices you see in most organizations. Instead, he creates more personal, informal relationships. Meeting with him is like sharing a beer with your father-in-law, when your father-in-law is buying. He sets the agenda, you’re not exactly his equal, and he takes bathroom breaks and family calls when he feels like it. But none of his behavior is intended to offend.

You mention that your peers don’t think your boss will ever change. Do they want him to? Or do they see his behavior as inclusive and welcoming? Are you the only one who is taking offense?

Master Your Story: I will suggest some actions that may help you change your boss’s behavior. But they don’t come with a guarantee. You can’t control your boss. What you can control is your reaction to his behavior. If you can’t master your story—if you can’t find a way to accept your boss’s behavior and feel good about it—then your choice comes down to either convincing your boss to change or leaving his employment.

Get Your Heart Right: Before you take action, stop and ask yourself what you really want long term for yourself, your boss, and the organization. Your initial question focuses too narrowly on how the situation makes you feel. Ideally, the conversation you have with your boss shouldn’t be about you and your feelings. The conversation should be about how to further your boss’s and the company’s priorities as well as your own.

Detail Your Expectations: You are asking for a change in the way your weekly meetings are handled. What exactly do you want? Don’t ask for something vague, like respect. Instead, make your requests very specific, such as: fewer interruptions, shorter meetings, clear agendas, etc. Decide what it is you are asking for.

Make it Motivating: Write down the pluses and minuses of each request. And include your boss’s perspective. For example, what does your boss gain or lose if he stops taking phone calls during your meetings? How would this change help him achieve his goals? Do your best to anticipate the consequences he values, and to weigh them in your balance sheet. Again, focus on consequences to the business and the boss, instead of talking about how his behaviors makes you feel. Your feelings may be fairly low on his list of priorities.

Make it Easy: Do your part to make your meetings more professional. Make calendar appointments that have beginning and end times. Get him agendas in advance, and bring a copy with you. Stick to the agenda as much as possible. At the same time, take care to avoid offending your boss. He may interpret your actions as signaling that you want only a professional relationship, not a friendship.

During the Meeting: At the beginning of the meeting, let your boss know what you’re stepping away from in order to meet with him. This puts some urgency on keeping the meeting on track and ending it on time. Then, when he interrupts your meeting, consider saying, “Let me know when you’re ready to continue, or if you want to reschedule.” Then leave.

I hope there are nuggets within my answer that will help you move forward. Please let me know how you work it out.

Best,
David

Influencer QA

What Should We Do and How Do We Get Everyone To Do It?

Dear David,

How does the Influencer model relate to processes such as: PDCA/DMAIC Cycles, Quality Circles, Statistical Process Control, Continuous Improvement/Kaizen, Lean/Six Sigma, and other Quality-Related approaches to Process Improvement?

Signed,
Curious

Dear Curious,

Welcome to the history of the Quality Movement! I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of the organizations at the forefront of this movement—Toyota, Ford, Mazda, Motorola, Xerox, and others—since the late 70s. My work has been mostly related to interpersonal skills, but it turns out these processes are also integral to quality improvement.

I think these processes help teams answer two important questions:

1. What should we do?
2. How do we get everyone to do it?

The first question focuses on process improvement; the second on influence.

PDCA/DMAIC Cycles: For those not already “in the know,” these initials stand for:

• PDCA = Plan, Do, Check, Act
• DMAIC = Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

These processes are pretty similar. Each suggests a logical order to performance improvement initiatives, and each is intended to describe ongoing, continuous cycles of improvement. If you follow the steps in order, you should arrive at the answer to “What should we do?”

Quality Circles: Quality Circles were an early attempt to add Influence to the PDCA/DMAIC processes. The idea was to involve the people who were doing the work. If they were the ones who came up with the improvement idea, then they’d be more committed to “getting everyone to do it.”

These quality circles became the management fad of the early 80’s. Unfortunately, they were often imported into autocratic cultures that weren’t open to employees’ ideas, and so backfired.

Statistical Process Control (SPC): This is the approach that helped Japan conquer automobile manufacturing in the 90s. SPC focuses on how stable, predictable, and uniform a process can be and shows teams how to measure their consistency.

Before SPC, teams would achieve quality specs by producing 100 fuel injectors, and then throwing out the 20 that were out of spec. With SPC, teams could figure out how to make all 100 fit within the specs.

However, SPC required more arithmetic and math than many front-line employees would tolerate. SPC is great at answering, “What should we do?” but its use is often limited because it’s so hard to “Get everyone to do it.”

Kaizen, Lean, and Six Sigma: These three approaches are the basis for most quality programs today. Each tries to answer our first question, “What should we do?”

  • Kaizen focuses on short-term, small-scale improvement projects. It is often used at a team or even individual task level. The tools it employs are fairly simple and low cost: process mapping and cause-and-effect diagrams.
  • Lean focuses on intermediate-term, larger scale projects. These projects often span functions and departments, and include a wider variety of outcomes—quality, waste, speed, etc. It employs more tools and more sophisticated tools: visual controls, kanban, pull systems, etc.
  • Six Sigma focuses on long-term, large-scale, and complex projects. These projects involve multiple stakeholders, complex variables, and multiple outcomes. It employs the largest number, variety, and sophisticated tools: statistical tools, value-stream mapping, and a host of others.

Influencer: When we created the Influencer model, we began with the second question: “How do we get everyone to do it?” Presupposing that the quality team had already discovered what the “it” was. For example, it doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated quality tools to discover that hand washing is important in a hospital. But it often takes Influencer, with its Six Sources of Influence™, to get people to do it.

This emphasis makes Influencer the perfect complement to many process improvement initiatives. Teams use Kaizen, Lean, or Six Sigma tools to find better processes and then use Influencer to motivate and enable their adoption.

The greatest overlap between Influencer and process improvement is in two areas: Vital Behaviors and Structural Ability. Influencer focuses on the few Vital Behaviors that drive Results. Often, we use quality tools, such as process-flow maps, to find them. In addition, we use Kaizen, Lean, and Six Sigma to change the environment to make the Vital Behaviors easier and more likely.

I hope this helps. Many, if not most, of our customers use a variety of process-improvement systems. And they find that Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and Influencer play a role in furthering their success.

Best,
David

Crucial Conversations QA

Resolving a Sibling Rivalry

Dear David,

My father passed away last summer after a six-month battle from mesothelioma. I was named as financial power and my sister as medical power of attorney in my parents’ will. My older brother went ballistic. Since then, he’s tried taking control of everything surrounding my Dad, my parent’s house, and now my mom. My mom was recently hospitalized and had back surgery. He tried to persuade the doctors to communicate only to him. He’s blown up at my sister, my mom, and me multiple times. His response is always, “No one listens to me!” or, “You’re not understanding me!” How can your books and ideas help this situation?

Signed,
House Divided

Dear Divided,

It’s sad when a family tragedy divides family members. This is a time when your mother needs support and the strife you describe is probably very hard on her. I’ll begin with a caution you’ve heard from us before: You can’t control your brother’s behavior or his feelings. What you can control are your own thoughts and actions.

Determine what you really want.
What are your hopes for the long term? Do you want a close relationship with your brother? Or will it be enough if you can get him to cooperate in your mother’s care and her affairs? I’m not suggesting you will be able to achieve either of these outcomes. You can’t control the way your brother feels and acts. But knowing what you really want will help you determine your own actions.

Understand the story that drives the feelings. Your brother went ballistic when he wasn’t given a greater role in your parents’ will. It’s important that you understand why that action provoked such a strong reaction. He probably saw it as a slap in the face—a sign of disrespect. When he says, “No one listens to me,” it makes me think he’s telling himself a story of ongoing disrespect.

Establish Mutual Respect. In Crucial Conversations, we say that, “Respect is like air.” When it’s there, you don’t even notice it. But when it’s not, it’s all you can think about. Does this sound like your brother? Is there a way to prove to your brother that you and your family respect him?

Let me imagine a tough scenario: Suppose your brother has a history of drug abuse, stealing from family members, and lying, and this is why your parents didn’t make him their executor. Does your brother still deserve respect? Of course he does! Every human deserves respect. But notice that the facts of the situation will determine how you will demonstrate that respect.

Demonstrate respect. There is no best way to demonstrate respect, so I’ll suggest a few that might be relevant to your situation. I’ll start by describing an idea that requires a great deal of trust and end with a few that require less.

    • If your role allows it, give your brother an accountability he can own. This action would demonstrate your trust. Of course, don’t delegate a responsibility unless you believe he can, and will, master it.
    • Involve him in your decisions. Ask for his help in establishing decision criteria, timelines, budgets, actions, etc.
    • Give him information in advance about decisions you will make. Clarify decision criteria, timelines, budgets, actions you are taking, etc.

Establish ground rules based on Mutual Purpose. In your question, you described several negative behaviors—taking control, excluding family members, and blowing up. You need to establish ground rules that prevent these from recurring. These ground rules will work best if your brother buys in to them. In fact, you’d ideally like him to play a role in creating them.

These ground rules should stem from your Mutual Purpose, which I believe is “Doing what’s best for your mother.” I think that you, your brother, and your sister would all agree on that as your key purpose.

If you find that this is your common ground, then ask the next question: “How should we act toward each other and toward mom to make sure we do what is best for her? What actions should we START doing to improve her experience? What actions should we STOP doing? And what actions should we CONTINUE doing?”

This START, STOP, and CONTINUE exercise should be inclusive. I’m sure your brother will suggest actions you should START or STOP doing as well. Again, make this a respect-building exercise by listening and including his ideas.

I hope some of these suggestions will work for you and your family.

Best,
David