7 Poka-Yoke Techniques That Make You An Effective Manager.
You probably have the best intentions for your team as well as for your company. However, I’m pretty sure that although you know how to manage well, occasionally there are things that, in hindsight, did not match your aspirations. For the purpose of this article, let’s call these things management mistakes: actions you took differently than you should have with the information available at the time.
I am not talking about failing: You can still fail even when you do everything right. Failing is an outcome, mistakes are your actions.
To avoid management mistakes, I suggest applying the concept of poka-yoke to your work as a manager or entrepreneur. The Japanese expression for mistake-proofing, coined by Toyota quality expert Shigeo Shingo, means any device or mechanism that prevents the inevitable human error from happening.
Poka-yoka examples are everywhere in our daily life, from having to press the brake pedal before you can start your automatic transmission car to any specific plug that you can’t insert into the wrong socket due to it’s design. For a work process, the concept aims at building in quality—that is, designing it into the process—instead of inspecting it in after the process is done.
How can you use the concept of poka-yoke for your work as a manager?
WHAT IS POKA-YOKE?
Basically, anything that warns you about a management mistake that is about to happen (warning poka-yoke) or prevents the mistake from happening altogether (control poka-yoke) is a poka-yoke device.
1. DEVELOP A MISTAKE DISCOVERY MENTALITY
You need to be aware of where you make mistakes. A good way to do this is to define what you consider flawless management. Do you want to be available for your team for at least 80 percent of the time? Write it down. You want to constantly tackle three strategic initiatives and close them after 3 months max? Write that down.
The more aware you are of what’s important to you as a manager, the more obvious it becomes where your efforts fall short of these aspirations. These are the “mistakes” you need to tackle.
2. USE TECHNOLOGY AND AUTOMATION
Today’s technology-driven business environment provides a ton of tools to mistake-proof your work. Plug-ins for your favorite email software make sure you don’t send emails containing a phrase you want to get rid of or that you don’t reply by using the “Reply All” button unintentionally. Almost any software you can use today has settings to make your life easier.
Or go one step further and automate whole processes, whether they’re cloud-based with existing or third-party integrations or tailored to your enterprise-scale software with Robotic Process Automation. It’s never been easier to get rid of tedious tasks and mitigate the potential for human error. Whereever you use technology to prevent mistakes from happening, that’s poka-yoke.
3. BUILD TEMPLATES AND PRINCIPLES
As a continuous improvement effort, try to build a template or formulate a principle after every mistake you have identified. If a business decision didn’t turn out well, look for the root causes and write down how you would decide differently in the future. If a performance review with your employee wasn’t as constructive as you hoped, look for the reasons and build a template for the next session. If you do this for all your mistakes, you will build a growing catalogue of templates and decision principles that will help you mistake-proof your managerial work.
4. DEFINE PROCESSES FOR YOUR PEOPLE MANAGEMENT AND STICK TO THEM
Build a clear landscape of how you want to manage your people. Define a meeting structure out of 1-on-1s and team meetings. Define when you want to be available for your team and when you need time to work on your own. Schedule performance reviews that are more frequent than once a year and plan in time to prepare them properly. Make a checklist of all those things and review your compliance with your plan once a month. Business will creep in and rock the best intentions, so you have to make sure you stick to them.
5. ESTABLISH A CULTURE OF INSTANT FEEDBACK
Poka-yoke is all about preventing mistakes, so the classic feedback after things are said and done might not do the trick. Make sure your team lets you know instantly if your management style is not what you want it to be or you are about to make a decision they think is wrong. That will help you stop and evaluate to avoid mistakes before they occur.
6. FIND A MENTOR AND SEEK PEER-REVIEW
For strategic business decisions, seek feedback before you execute, to avoid mistakes from happening. Meeting regularly with a mentor to monitor your planned decisions will be of great help here.
Establish a network of trustworthy entrepreneurs or managers in the same situation who are willing to give you feedback and input on your business problems. Of course, make time to do the same for them. This network can function as your strategic poka-yoke team.
7. GET OUTSIDE HELP WHERE YOU LACK EXPERTISE
As a manager, you can’t claim a lack of knowledge for mistakes that you’ve made. It is your job to know your own expertise and its limitations. To avoid mistakes for tasks outside of your expertise, get outside help. That help can be colleagues from other departments (with the nice side effect of breaking up silos in the company) or an external consultant who can help with your specific problem.
You can’t achieve this in one day, but it’s a journey worth pursuing as you strive for effective management. Develop a poka-yoke mindset: Whenever you see a mistake, try to eliminate it for the future. With the tools above, you are well equipped to succeed.
Like always, let me know what you think and about your experiences with poka-yoke in the comment section.