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Uwe H Kaufmann
Dr Uwe H Kaufmann is the founder of Centre for Organisational Effectiveness (COE Pte Ltd), a business advisory firm operating out of Singapore. As consultant and coach with many years of experience, his passion lies in supporting organisations to improve their effectiveness. Uwe is a German national and Permanent Resident of Singapore. He has four children and nine grandchildren … and counting.

What You Measure is What You Get

Developing a compelling vision and mission statement as well as a sound strategy is vital for any organisation. Equally important is the translation of the strategy into the day-to-day business. This step becomes even more critical for multi-national companies with their need for regional adaptation and alignment with corporate at the same time. So, how do we make sure our mid- and long-term plans – developed in the head quarter – make sense to business leaders and employees in other regions?

Seven Habits … – Habit 1: VOC

Ting is a sophisticated traditional Chinese character (Figure 1) that exemplifies the most important activity related to customer service in an impressive way: Listening. The old Chinese already knew that when listening with your ears, you better treat the speaker as a king, focus wholeheartedly with 100% attention.

Only by doing so you learn about your customers’ requirements, the mentioned ones and – often more important – the unsaid.

Listening Without Ting

Customer Surveys

It was early evening when I received one of these customer survey calls everyone experiences once in a while. The timing was not perfect however I decided to help this poor chap on the phone. He was just trying to do his job for his bank. Patiently did I listen to his questions trying to give him my honest rating on a scale from 1 to 10. Before we started, I had already decided that my average rating would be around 7. This does not make someone loosing face and still shows some room for improvement. Since the questions did not really touch anything that had to do with my banking experience but did rather circle around the brand value of his bank, I lost some interest. Nevertheless I installed some variation by going down to 5 and up to even 9 for some questions.

Figure 1: Traditional Chinese Character Ting. English: Listen

Figure 1: Traditional Chinese Character Ting.

When Survey Data Becomes Interesting

Only when he finally touched an area that had to do with my recent banking experience, I woke up, gave him a rather low rating and wanted to explain why. His answer was: ‘Sorry, I am not really from this bank. I am calling from a call centre and I am not able and needed to gather your verbatim feedback.’

Customer surveys are means of listening to the customer. Unfortunately, when you survey a customer he is often not in the mood to give his feedback. Most likely, he is disturbed in the middle of something more important – which is nearly everything. When you then engage a call agent – who gets paid by number of calls completed in a certain time frame – you have two people who are not interested in talking to each other. That call would be used to derive strategy, improvement actions or OD interventions. What do you think is the result of that? Where is the Ting in that?

Customer Feedback – Complaints and Commendations

Another time, I had a rather unpleasant experience with one of our banks and their incorrect statements. I sat down, took time to write a pretty detailed explanation of what happened. The bank contacted me and promised to look into the matter. Some days later they apologised and said that this was an IT issue. This would be fixed with the next release. Good.

Customer complaints related to real events are much better in quality and usually indeed useful for both, fixing the problem and improving the system. Research in the German financial sector has shown that these complaints commonly reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Behind each complaint you should expect 25 similar unpleasant events with customers who do not complain. They may just walk.

And, think about how much you pay for the surveys. Complaints come for free!

Best Practices – Ting in Action

Learning from the Great

When I joined GE Capital many years ago, one message got hard-wired in my genes from the beginning: the customer comes first. Before Jack Welch started his famous Six Sigma initiative, GE installed a thorough system for collecting and analysing the voice of the customer that was usually scattered all over the place. Every Six Sigma project presentation we did not start with the voice of the customer was prompted by our SVP with the question:

And, how does this relate to our customers?

Another best-selling question by our SVP was

Do you THINK this is what the customers want or did you actually ASK them?

Both questions needed to be answered with specifics, with facts. Commonplaces would not be accepted. Never before or after have I seen this kind of rigour in another company.

TING in Action at an SME in Jakarta

David, the MD of a medium-sized supplier company for the petrochemical industry in Jakarta, meets his direct reports every morning at 0800 for a very short update. He used to ask questions like ‘Everything ok? Anything new?’ until he found that something is missing in his company: the focus on the customer. Therefore, he decided to change this daily routine. He now starts the day with one question: ‘How is the voice of the customer?’ His team needs to mention not only issues raised by clients or observed by his staff. They also need to come with short-term and long-term solution ideas. Every day! Since they started this habit, they learned a lot more about their clients. In this company, the meaning of voice of the customer is in the bloodstream. They listen with 100% attention – and act. They know the meaning of “Ting”.

TING in Action at the Government

In the Singapore blood bank, nursing staff together with Red Cross continuously work on improving the level of customer service. They know that every donor who does not return means a lost blood bag that could be vital for a patient in one of the hospitals. Therefore, nurses and their colleagues do not rely on written customer surveys. They contact their donors in order to listen wholeheartedly to donors’ needs, to understand their concerns and to be able to serve them better. Although being a government agency, they display an exceptional level of dedication and customer focus that would do good to any private organisation.

Conclusion

Talking about the importance of the customer once in a while and running some surveys from time to time is not good enough to really serve them better. In order to achieve this you need to change the behaviour of your team members. It is necessary to install some habits.

Make it a habit, like David, to ask in your meetings with your team members ‘What is our customers’ voice? What have you done to serve our customers better?’ And, make it a habit to start the talk with your own story to highlight how you have improved the level of customer service.

If you cannot answer these questions positively every week, check whether you have spent your time wisely.

And, it would do us good to remember what the old Chinese taught us some thousand years ago: Listen with your ears wide open (and your mouth shut), by treating the speaker as a king, whilst focusing wholeheartedly and paying full attention. Listen with Ting.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Process Managers

Not every organisation needs to develop process managers with Lean and Six Sigma skills. Yet, every organisation deserves to have managers with some basic process management skills. Even better, if process management skills became part of the daily business routine and were applied unconsciously, became habits. What are the seven habits of highly effective process managers you should be cultivating?

Driving Change With Clear Messages

Two weeks after joining Central Bank in Germany, I spend a full week in the so-called Black Belt Training by TE Capital Europe. Black Belts are the project managers for process improvement approaches at TE. This approach comes from Motorola and is called Six Sigma. The first two weeks in the new company, I have tried to understand Six Sigma and to learn about the methodology and steps, after I got somehow familiar with TE Capital and its terminology, our banking products and our bank itself. While my new colleagues could help me with the latter, the learning of Six Sigma seemed to be an unsuccessful venture, as nobody in my bank had more than a hunch about it.

Why Should I Become a Black Belt?

Becoming a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt – and to a certain degree a Green Belt – is a major career move and should be considered carefully. There are not only the Pros; there are plenty of Cons. For you, it will definitely mean putting in more time. On top of someone’s normal job, the Black Belt is required to spend a considerable amount of time on the new commitment. Your additional time will not be rewarded financially at the outset. Your organisation will not be willing to put much money in something that is new and has not paid back yet.

Black Belt CandidatesWhy not Becoming a Black Belt?

You have no Power – You need People Skills

You will work with teams whom you – most likely – have no power over. If you cannot convince them with your knowledge, skills and especially your attitude, you will be running your Lean Six Sigma projects on your own. The same applies for the stakeholders, i.e. the process owners you want to help to improve their processes. If you think they need you, think again. When you appear in their office, you, basically, convey the message that there is something wrong with their processes. They will not be overly enthusiastic to see you … until you show that you are worth spending precious time with and lending scarce resources to. Interacting with, influencing and communicating with all levels in your organisation will be one of your key responsibilities. If your best friend is your computer whom you prefer to interact with, this job is not for you.

It is not only about Statistics, but there is Statistics

Although there is no need to be or become a statistician in order to do the Black Belt job, it is still about dealing with data, about data analytics. Collecting, plotting and analysing them – sometimes with advanced statistical tools – in order to draw conclusions for improvements is one of your foremost tasks. If you already get scared when your boss asks you to produce a histogram, you should consider giving this Black Belt adventure a miss.

You will be required to learn continuously

As a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, you will not be able to show results short-term. Be prepared that you – and your stakeholders – need to have some patience until you, with your team, get to the real root cause of problems, develop effective solutions and enough data to back them up. If it would be easy to do this, it would essentially mean that the process owner does not know what he is doing. Fortunately, we do not have many of those. Unfortunately for you, you need to learn about the process, catch up with the process owner’s and stakeholder’s knowledge before you can be of any help. You will need time to study what you want to improve.

If you are frustrated now, do not give up yet. There are some benefits, too.

Why Becoming a Black Belt

You will have endless opportunities for learning

Being a Black Belt is one of the most interesting tasks you can think of. You learn more about a virtually unlimited variety of processes and issues in your organisation than anyone else. This demanding job rotation, i.e. rotation from one project to the next, has numerous rewards. One of them is the growing familiarity with your organisation, with your colleagues at all levels, with customers and their needs and with your suppliers and partners.

Contrary to an induction programme, you will learn “at the heart” of the processes. You will learn what makes your organisation tick – or struggle.

You will be doing things that really matter

By doing so, you will be able to contribute to the organisation’s strategy – if they take it seriously. You will do what matters and you will help moving your organisation to the next level, to prepare them for tomorrow. This makes your new job highly visible. More people in the organisation will know about you and what you do. Especially your management will recognise and challenge you. From time to time, you will get the limelight you can use for your personal development. Before these occasions, you will be honing your proficiency in presenting to the management. You will learn how to understand and speak their language and you will grow to be convincing in your pitch.

Even though learning will become your daily bread, it is just a means to an end. The ultimate goal is improving your organisation’s performance to satisfy customer needs profitably. The skills you learn in theory and especially by practising are not only applicable to your Lean Six Sigma projects. Over time, you will make use of them in all facets of your professional and even your private life. Who says that powerful influencing skills cannot be useful when dealing with your teen kids? It works for me.

We need a robust and systematic tool to select and train future leaders for our company. Personally, I do not know that much about Six Sigma, but what I have read so far was about focusing on customer requirements, managing and improving processes, changing the company’s culture, encouraging people and, last but not least, making money. This is exactly the job of our leaders.
Michael Malaghan. President, Learning Technologies

It will be rewarding for you

Although, there is usually no pay rise or other monetary award at the beginning, you certainly increase your own value over time. Your organisation will definitely recognise and reward you for this – or another organisation will. Your Black Belt certificate adds more value to your CV than many other papers you used to attach. This certificate is not only about theoretically mastering new skills. More importantly, this certificate testifies the application of these skills to generate value to the business and your customers. You will not only be seen as someone who has studied a new theory. You will be seen as someone “who has done it”.

In many organisations who practise Lean Six Sigma, previous Black Belts and especially Master Black Belts have taken over key positions. If you were able to deliver results as a Black Belt, you should not be surprised to find your name well positioned in the succession plan of your organisation.

Conclusion

Becoming a Black Belt is not for everyone. More important than statistical knowledge are personal traits such as openness and conscientiousness combined with some degree of extroversion. If you decide that you fit the bill and you go for it you should do it wholeheartedly and you will certainly benefit a great deal from it.

If someone asked you to join the Black Belt training and take over a project, it is usually a good thing. It usually means someone cares about you, wants to develop you and trusts that you are worth it. Do not forgo this opportunity; it may not come again so soon.
Your decision to become a Black Belt has the potential to change your life … as it did for me.

As Featured On EzineArticles

Season’s Greetings

Every year around December, he gets very busy. He plans for the big event and he wants to make sure everything works out to the expectations of his customers. He prepares gifts; most of them are not expensive in value. However, they are precious because of the warm thoughts and lovely considerations put in. Everyone knows him by his good deeds, only a few have seen him. He is hardly recognised and never awarded for his contributions although he adds value in multiple ways and touches countless lives. Knowing that he helps many and supports those who need his aid is enough award for his selfless work.

My Opinion: It’s About the Process

Discussing workforce planning with an HR professional of a government entity in Singapore we explained our approach that starts from customer and strategy, goes via processes and concludes in workforce needs, in short. The answer I got from my client was “Why do you look into operations in order to do workforce planning. We want to do this without dealing too much with processes.”

I was surprised to get this reaction from an HR professional.

Increase Productivity – The Leadership Challenge

“We need to increase productivity!” What sounds very reasonable on a country scale could be damaging on a company level.

Now, after nearly two years of recession the economy is back on track, i.e. companies of all sectors sell more. This is good news, isn’t it? It brings our productivity to new heights, meeting and even surpassing the levels we had seen before the recession. Stop! This is not really good news. This is expected news. Every company – well managed or not – will be able to show these figures. The question is: have companies used the time of low productivity to expand the productivity potential in preparation for the future?

Applying Systems Thinking to the Practice of Six Sigma

To find the most valuable Six Sigma projects – ones with the highest system-level leverage – can require systems thinking and tools like the causal loop diagram, which supplies much more information than the usual cause-and-effect analysis.
Well-focused improvements done in the right place can lead to significant system-wide results for an organisation. In simple terms, it is a matter of choosing the right Six Sigma projects. But the problem is that it is not always easy to know which projects will produce the highest system-level leverage.
Often Green Belts and Black Belts are left to their own devices to find projects. Because the locus of high-leverage changes is normally not located in close proximity, either in time or space, to the symptoms of the problem, it is often not obvious to participants in the system. The result is: the “right” projects may not be selected.
Published

Why Six Sigma Black Belts Make Better Leaders

Besides business and functional know-how, a successful leader must have competencies in leading change and improving, designing and managing processes. A Six Sigma program helps prepare leaders by providing on-the-job training through project work.
A recent survey by iSixSigma Magazine of more than 1,300 business professionals whose companies are using Six Sigma revealed that leadership development programs which involve Six Sigma training are six times more likely to be called “highly successful” than those without. Many of these leadership development programs involve a Black Belt track for future leaders. Thus, the obvious question is, What skills and know-how do Six Sigma professionals acquire that gives them an edge as leaders?

Every Beginning is Difficult

New undertakings or experiences are always challenging at first. This is no different when Schenker Singapore (Pte) Ltd, a transportation & logistics company, decides to embark on something new like Lean Six Sigma. It might seem to be even more demanding at the outset since the number of 3rd party logistics providers rising to this challenge is very limited. Best practices in this industry are not widely spread and hard to come by.

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