Tag Archive: culture shift

Two Things I Learned This Week From Students

teacherThis week I taught a two-day course on behalf of the Centre for Leadership and Learning in the Ontario Public Service (OPS). It’s called “Management Essentials,” and is for non-managers who want to either learn more about how management is expected to perform within the values and objectives of the OPS, or to understand what it takes to become a manager – thus being able to assess their own skills gaps and build them up accordingly.

This is a great course, and I enjoy teaching it so much not only because the materials are current and relevant, but because the people who attend generally WANT to be there (vs. being “told” to take a course in presentation skills, or “how to write a briefing note”). Teachers reading this will agree that when people attend because they want to, they are generally much more engaged and the class has more energy.

This was true this week – a great class filled with 35 interesting people from many different areas of the OPS, with differing levels of experience and terrific stories to bring life to the material.

As I drove home I reflected on a couple of standout things that I learned from the class, and thought I’d share them with you in this week’s blog:

One: We need to remind people, over and over again, that THEY are responsible for their careers and their professional development.

Situational Leadership Model

One of the conversations we had (a couple of times) relates to the last blog post I wrote (Does Your Manager Like People). We had just finished discussion on the Situational Leadership model of applying directive vs. supportive leadership techniques. This tool is a BIG hit with people – while complex at first, it is extremely helpful for new managers when they need to accept and learn that their natural, or comfortable, style of learning may not be appropriate in all situations. It helps them assess, adapt, and communicate in a more effective way.

A student approached me at the break and said, “this is AMAZING. I think my manager missed this subject when she was promoted and attended manager training.”

“Ah, bless your heart,” I thought.

I made sure to share with the class that in most organizations, there is no training to become a manager. (As an aside, I may enjoy a little too much dropping those bombs and watching the reactions.) The conversation that followed was an important one, as people realized that it is up to them to learn how to be a good leader.

A great manager should be encouraging their teams to learn and grow, develop career goals and job shadow, take courses, or broaden their perspectives. In the absence of a great manager, many people flounder and future talent may be lost.

Two: There are employees out there who want to innovate, change, and improve, and we need to find and harness that energy more effectively.

After the “manager training is up to you” conversation, there was a slight shift in energy, with more questions aimed at the application of the course material in a practical way to help people apply for and win new jobs.

One question came from a young man who likes his job very much, has been with the OPS for about five or six years with no complaints, and who is starting to feel frustrated. “I’m naturally inquisitive and process-oriented. I see people do the same things over and over with the same results, but no one takes the time to stop and fix the process so that things improve. Where are all the process jobs???”

Not an easy question to answer. Of course there are process jobs out there, and within the Ontario Government there are specific areas that are more process-focused than others. The trick is in finding those job descriptions and being able to read between the lines and know that certain phrases indicate a culture of process improvement more than others.

The real key is meeting the right people. This student was taking control and doing the right things – taking courses, asking questions, discussing his goals and dream job criteria with people, and being open to new opportunities. By doing so, he was exposing himself to more people who might be able to point him in the right direction.

I’d love to see the process-focused culture shift happen more quickly – not only in the OPS but in other private-sector organizations as well. Imagine if more job descriptions included a requirement for some type of Innovation Thinking, or the ability to demonstrate a process-improvement focus as part of regular job functions.

I may be biased, but I think that a process focus culture is the next big thing required in business today. If we could find these naturally process-oriented people and maximize their energy, we could shift our thinking from “process improvement or day job” to “day job through process improvement.” (Click to Tweet)

I teach again in a couple of weeks… can’t wait to see what my students teach me then!!

Until next time,


Coffee Talk: Explaining Whiteboard’s Sweet Spot

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 12.50.36 PM“I thought you did process improvement,” said my friend.

“We do,” I responded, stirring my decaf soy skinny mocha (new fave drink, for those keeping track).

“But you just taught a course on Coaching, and another on Executing Flawlessly.”

“Yeah, and?” I was sure there was a question in here, but wasn’t clear yet on what it was.

“I don’t get it. What do those have to do with process improvement? That’s process mapping, and finding efficiency, and statistics. You’re talking about leadership skills in those other courses.”

Ah, the lightbulb came on. And my first thought was, “Really? Isn’t it obvious?” My second thought was “Ruth, don’t be rude. Clearly this is not as obvious a concept as you seem to think.” In fact, most people Nicole and I talk to are not quite sure how to explain the niche that Whiteboard Consulting has carved for itself.

“Hmmm,” I stalled for time as I gathered my thoughts. “OK, you’ve done some process improvement at work, right?”

“Well, we’ve only done a little bit. My boss is trained in Lean Six Sigma and has been teaching us a little at a time. It seems ok, but it takes a really long time to implement and most of us don’t have the time to dedicate to it. It’s crazy, because Sherri, my boss, clearly loves this stuff but has trouble explaining it to some of the people who are more cynical. We’ve got people with 30+ years of experience, and you can’t tell them about changing the way we do things when the processes work just fine for them. And it’s so involved! I mean Lean has all these steps that you have to do, and meetings, and charts – people don’t have time for it all, and so the ideas they come up with just don’t stick. I really don’t get it. No offense,” he added hastily.

“None taken,” I said. “What else do you know about process improvement?”

He thought a minute while he chewed his blueberry scone. “To be honest, not much. I know that a buddy’s company tried to implement Six Sigma and spent a ton of money on training and then ditched it after a year. But I also know that there are people who are successful at it – I mean, you and Nicole have obviously had great experiences or you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.” He shrugged. “I don’t know why it works for some and not for others.”

“Think about it this way,” I began. “If your boss could do one thing differently to make her process improvement efforts more successful, what would it be?”

“One thing? That’s hard because there are a bunch – she needs to be able to actually explain why this process stuff is necessary, and put it in the language we’ll all get. And that’s not easy because we all come from different backgrounds at work. And then there’s the time to get things done and the tendency to allow things to just slide by. No one has the time, so stuff gets dropped and there are no consequences. Why should I kill myself over something if no one really cares enough to hold me accountable? The whole thing is inconsistent and so it just doesn’t stick with people.”

“Right, so if your boss was better able to coach you on what needs to be done, communicate why it needs to be done, understand the cultural resistance for how it’s being done, help people make time for the work, and hold people accountable to their tasks… that would make it successful?”

“For sure. Absolutely. But you’d have to teach her how to… oh… I see what you did there. Nicely done.”

We both laughed. “See,” I said, “so many of the more formal process improvement efforts require a HUGE investment in time and money, and companies take them on before fully assessing whether the organization is ready to change. They expect people to be thrilled to change their processes when first of all, they’re perfectly happy doing what they’ve always done, and secondly they’re terrified that process improvements will mean job cuts. Then everyone’s day jobs kick in, and draw attention away from what the goals were, and things slide, and it becomes this swirl of doom. Nothing gets done, and process improvement efforts get a bad name.”

“Swirl of doom. Did you just make that up?”

“Sort of, yeah. We also call it the vortex of insanity. Take your pick. But seriously – Nicole and I recognized this long ago, and set up Whiteboard Consulting with its own little niche: we are the company that teaches the initial steps of process improvement that prove themselves and start to shift the culture. We also teach the leadership components that are essential to supporting the success of the initiatives. You just can’t do one without the other. Well you can, I guess, but you’ll likely screw everything up.”

“Are you saying Lean Six Sigma is the wrong way to go?”

“No! No not at all,” I said quickly. “You know I’m a black belt in Six Sigma, and obviously I loved it or I wouldn’t still be doing it almost 15 years later. We just feel that those big programs are, for a lot – not all, but a lot – of businesses, too much, too soon. We teach the baby steps first, and if the culture is then ready for the big guns, then by all means, launch the formal stuff. Whiteboard Consulting’s sweet spot is where process and leadership meet.” (Click to Tweet)

“That sounds like a good tag line.”

“It does, doesn’t it. I may have to do something about that. Now enough about work, let’s discuss the season ender of Game of Thrones and whether Jon Snow really does know a thing or two after all.”


Until next time,


Process Improvement via The Whiteboard Way© – Step One

This week we’re starting a series on The Whiteboard Way©, our very own process improvement methodology.

First, a Little Background

When we started Whiteboard Consulting Group, one of the things we wanted to do was develop a way to do process improvement that would be easy for people and organizations who had never tried it, never heard of it, or thought that it had to be big, cumbersome, and expensive.

Our method is simple, has only 5 steps, doesn’t rely on expensive software, and can help you begin your process-improvement journey. Think of  The Whiteboard Way© as the act of “tilling the soil” – getting it ready for the culture shift towards continuous improvement that will surely follow.

Step One: Define It!

Perhaps the most difficult part of getting a process improvement project off the ground is actually defining the problem. Why is this so important? Because if we really take the time to think about it, removing all assumptions and pre-conceived ideas about the solutions, we can ensure two things: 1) an unbiased approach to problem solving, and 2) an open approach to all possible solutions. In other words, we can guarantee the best solution.


“But Ruth!” you exclaim, “that’s the easiest thing to do, isn’t it? If we didn’t know what the problem was, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, right?”

Not necessarily.

It is absolutely true that you have an idea of the problem. We like to describe it as a “pain point”, or something that keeps you up at night or frustrates you and makes you listen to angry music on the way home (I recommend Nine Inch Nails or Metallica for those days). You sit at the dinner table with friends or family and say things like, “I can’t believe we had to fix this issue for another customer,” or, “every month it’s the same thing – we scramble to get this done at the last minute,” or “it shouldn’t cost this much to do this work”.

The hard part is defining what’s wrong without assuming why it’s wrong.

Here are some examples:

“Bad” Problem Definitions

We have to fix this issue all the time for our customers because we just don’t have time to train our people.

We never have enough time to do this process because other priorities keep getting in the way.

It costs too much to do this piece of work because I can’t hire the right people.

“Good” Problem Definitions

In the last 3 months we have had to fix this issue 6 times for four customers, causing dissatisfaction for our customers and wasted processing time for our staff.

Each month we are 5-7 days late completing this process, impacting other departments and generating late fees for the company.

This piece of work costs the organization $5,000 per month. Best practices in similar companies is half that amount.

Here’s how we do it in The Whiteboard Way©

  1. State the pain point.
  2. Add data – how much, how often, what’s the impact
  3. Add no solutions

It just takes practice. And we can help you with that. Comment below with your “pain points”!

Next week: step two. Draw It!

Until then,


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