Mark’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Christina Kach, who I met via Twitter and email. I’m hoping this will be the first in a series of posts geared toward young Lean and continuous improvement professionals, but I think there are lessons and good reminders for all of us, regardless of our age.
Pop quiz: Do you know the best time to catch the shortest lines at Walt Disney World? During a family trip in the 4th grade, I figured it out by studying the travel guide, observing park behavior, and mapping out routes on the Magic Kingdom pamphlet. (I’ll share my secret, the answer: during a parade). I believe those out there like myself, with minds and enthusiasm for processes improvement – the Industrial Engineers, Lean practitioners, continuous improvement leads, and Six Sigma gurus of the world – are born this way (and likely figured it out years before we studied it in school).
After college graduation in 2009, I was fortunate to land a job where I am able to incorporate my passion for process improvement. In the time since, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share – to motivate the next generation of Lean thinkers.
You’re Not in College Anymore
Hear the reality check now, before you start your first “real world” job. It isn’t all about you anymore. It WAS all about you; your grades, your extracurricular activities, your weekend plans. Now it is about the team, the department success, and the goals of the company. Furthermore, there is no course outline or syllabus of expectations and due dates to help you navigate week to week. It is on you to map the work on your own.
Make it Personal
If there is one thing you do not want to be known for in your career (I speak from experience), it is to be “that guy” who only comes to talk when he needs something from you. Getting to know your new coworkers is #1. What is their passion? Travel, their children, cooking? (Hint: try looking around their cubicle). The reverse is also true; share your interests with people and have a few pictures in your work space to prompt conversations. Don’t just “hear” to give the impression you are paying attention – really LISTEN. Be truly engaged with your team, getting to know them, learning from them, and asking questions. And here’s the kicker: you can’t just do it once and be done. You have to follow up, build the relationship, and nurture the connection.
There are many factors in a job you can’t control – so focus on the ONE variable that you can Ã your own attitude. Your own attitude affects interactions, overall demeanor, and motivation – try to keep it positive. On any given day you can make the decision to be happy or cranky. You can react poorly to criticism or you can say to yourself, “well I’ve figured out what NOT to do.” Attitude isn’t one size fits all; you must adapt your interactions with each person. As time goes by, you’ll learn what works best in each situation. This is a topic worth finding guidance on from a coach or mentor.
You were hired to solve problems. Sitting at your desk and waiting for problems to show up looking to be solved isn’t the way. Keep an ear out for opportunities and speak up – “I can help with that.” Talk to your teammates and your boss. Just keep this in mind: how can I help? While I don’t have an exact solution on how to go about this, adapt according to your specific situation, I do know that sitting around waiting for a project to appear is NOT going to work.
Lean doesn’t have to be in a formal job title for you to apply it to your work or pursue it as an interest. If you see an opportunity for improvement, work it. If there is a formal “Lean” member of the team, bring it up. Or take the improvement ideas to your manager. Just remember to go in with a solution for the problem, not just to complain about the problem.
The ideas I’ve talked about here may seem unnatural at first. Like an athlete in training, continue to practice these skills, they will strengthen over time. No matter what the naming convention – Lean, Six Sigma, operational excellence – the theme is the same: continuous improvement. The same goes for your career: continually reach out to your team, learn, engage, and persevere on those frustrating days.
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