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The Capacity to Listen

December 16th, 2009 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

I can remember it clearly as if it was yesterday. Walking down that long corridor, behind a colleague of mine who, as usual, was talking. Talking. Talking.

And still talking as he pushed the swing doors. And let them fly back towards what could have been unsuspecting victims. However, I knew this man. Technically extremely competent. Very sure of himself. But with very little sensitivity to others. Some of us look back and make sure a) that we are being followed and b) by who. Other just barge straight on. Regardless of the surroundings. Incapable of listening.

For listening had evolved over the course of my relatively long career as the number one characteristic of the competent manager. This is especially important for the Lean manager, who has to keep his ear wide open :

- listening to his customers : are the goods or services that he is contributing to the supply and delivery of meeting the customers expectations. And if not, why not, and what are we going to do about it?

- listening to the members of the team : every hour of every day, out on the shop floor or in the office, encouraging, guiding, reacting to feedback, dealing with issues, building confidence and teamwork

- listening to his colleagues within the value stream : what are their difficulties, what can I be doing to help them, what events do we need to anticipate?

- listening to the processes : are they improving, what do the measures say, where are the issues, what can we do about it?

- listening to the external value stream contributors : what do our suppliers or service providers think of us, how can we make their job easier?

- listening to the boss, and making sure that he is fully aligned, motivated and committed to the Lean efforts, and doing something about it if he is not,

- and finally, back home, listening to the wife and kids. Lean Management can be a highly pressurised environment with the listening and then doing that takes place, but the work/life balance is an important aspect of the Lean Management System, and work pressures are no excuse for plugging our ears at home.

The capacity to listen is a telltale sign for many other management competencies. We should all do our utmost to improve it?

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