Ever take part in a team-building event where you and your co-workers take a personality test to find out more about what makes each other tick? I know that I’ve taken several over the years, and have seen a few used in our company that I haven’t taken. Usually you get some kind of a “scorecard” that you can post on your door or your desk to show others what type, score, or color you were rated at.
I’m actually a big fan of personality tests from a personal reflection standpoint, ever since I took my first Myers-Briggs in college. I’ve usually been amazed at how accurately they seem to describe me after only answering multiple choice questions, without any face to face discussion or direct observation of my behaviors. Some test result descriptions speak in generalities, while others seem to have been sitting in the room with you over the past month!
Many of the tests you take at work as part of a business team event are meant to identify strengths and weaknesses, better methods of how to communicate with each other, and when used properly are supposed to turn you into a more effective team. My experience has been that managers and team members rarely know how to “use” the results to actually improve and realize the full potential of the information you just learned. But you nearly always learn new things about your co-workers, which can lead to increased communication, therefore meeting success criteria for a teambuilding event.
This past week I switched offices at work. I won’t go into all the waste I observed while only moving to another location 30 yards away. But moving tends to be a great time for cleaning out all those old files, papers, and accumulated “stuff” that you forgot you still had. (Yes, I know, I should have a better 5S system!) While leafing through some of these documents, I found a personality test my group took in 2010, and decided to take a few minutes to read through it. It reminded me that when I originally read through the report, I thought it to be an accurate assessment that described me to a T. (“Color/Insights Wheel” from Gatehouse Alliance)
Several statements in the personality assessment really stood out to me that I can connect to Lean thinking:
- Usually weighs up all relevant factors before reaching decisions – I like to evaluate multiple alternatives, I want to know how a decision in one area affects work in another area, negatively or positively (how it affects the overall value stream), and want to make sure root cause has been identified and verified before implementing solutions.
- Can look for flaws and errors in almost everything – This can go both ways, because if you focus on nothing but problems and don’t celebrate any progress or accomplishments, it can be very demotivating. On the positConCive side though, if you are of the mindset that everything can be improved in pursuit of the ideal, then this is a great skill to have vs. just saying everything is fine, let’s keep things how they are today.
- Sees the world…as in which he can develop a series of procedures and regulations that will take care of the situation in hand – Process-oriented thinking, I see that there is a lot of opportunity to eliminate waste and defects by operating with the current least waste practice (and improving it!), and that I focus on the process and not the people.
- May tend to believe that the success of the team and its individuals are a measure of his own success – I think the correct concept here is “servant leadership”. Typically leaders are not the ones who create value in an organization, the team members are. I believe the purpose of a leader in a lean environment is to develop the next generation of leaders by ensuring they have the opportunity to build capability, to remove obstacles from their work and their mindsets, and to ensure the team is working on projects aligned with the organization’s needs.
- Ideal environment is one in which unity and cohesion prevail, theories and ideas have been tried and tested, clear rules and procedures exist – Here I see respect for people through respect for standard work and testing hypotheses, the organization is set up and connected in order to be highly efficient at creating value, and pathways for products and services are simple and direct.
Reading through these statements, I got to thinking about lean transformation. There is no question; adopting and building a lean culture is difficult for most companies, and it takes time. There are about as many recommendations out there for how to begin to transform as there are lean practitioners. One common option is to choose a test area, try to apply the thinking and tools, generate, celebrate, share the good results and use the story to generate traction in other areas. But how do you choose the right area? Who are the right people to choose to lead the transformation? Who are the right people to choose to do the work and learn the thinking first? What kind of skills should you look for?
By most measures, I’d be considered an “early-adopter” in our culture change. Lean thinking simply connected with the way I thought, or wanted to think. Was there a chance I was “hard-wired” for lean even before I learned what it was all about?
The bigger question is, can a tool like a personality test be used to identify key traits of potential early adopters and get them involved at the outset? Or perhaps, could a widely distributed test give you an output that could be used like an organizational “heatmap” showing where higher densities of “hard-wired lean thinkers” exist, to help you choose your starting point? Would there be value in knowing where you might find the path of least resistance and where you might encounter tougher than expected obstacles?
Just like any subjective test, data like this should be used as one of many decision criteria, not the only criteria. The test is only as effective and accurate as the effort and information that people feed into it. And I think for an effective lean transformation there need to be people who learn and apply the thinking and tools well, but there must also be individuals who are skilled in promoting and selling the change story to your organization, and these two skillsets may not always overlap.