I am reading a useful book, “The Spirit of Kaizen: Creating Lasting Excellence One Small Step At A Time” by Robert Maurer. He argues that asking for major changes from employees induces fear, and fear shuts down the brain. By contrast, the brain does not even notice small changes. But the small changes end up producing a cumulative change, one that is positive. Here are three ideas from the book.
1. Toss the “sandwich technique.” This is the idea of giving a compliment to an employee, sliding in a criticism and then giving another compliment. Maurer argues this technique is useless because the employee sees it as a set-up and dismisses the initial compliment. He suggests that managers insert small compliments into their daily interactions with the employees — praising effort is one, and recognizing the employee’s individuality another (get to know the names of the their spouse and children). The bottom line: “A history of appreciation prior to offering criticism is more effective [than the sandwich technique].”
2. “Get the right people on the bus.” This is a phrase from Jim Collins. Maurer writes that small things reveal who the right people are. He talks about a company that asks several applicants to form a circle and talk about why they want the job. He tells us that the manager does not care about the answers. Rather he is looking at the other applicants. Here is Maurer: “This manager knew that the best measure of a person’s character is to be found in the small gestures — making eye contact or giving an encouraging nod — that suggest a pattern of thoughtful behavior.”
3. Ask small questions. If the objective is to improve morale, Maurer suggests asking this question: What is the one small thing I can do to increase morale that will take no more than five minutes a day, three minutes a day or one minute a day? The answers result in manageable action. This template works with any goal: developing more business, becoming the firm’s go-to lawyer on an area of law and finding a significant other.
How you think is everything. Kaizen offers one way to frame your world.