A client is Selecting some new team leads.

The question posed was how do we pick someone who can do the job? The problem is that doing the work is a very different set of skills from directing the team.

There are four characteristics that I look for in anyone when I am selecting new leaders.

Improving       I look for someone who is constantly looking for a better way of doing the work. Listening – I look for someone who is good at listening, whose first tendency is not to push their opinion but who wants to hear people out and is then able to make up their own mind. I’m also looking for people who have the skill of listening for the emotion in someone’s words.

Working Harder is NOT the point

Priorities – I look for someone who is good at figuring out what should be done next, and who can see down the road a bit and anticipate what will be needed.

Knowledge of the Job – I look for someone who has demonstrated a deep understanding of the work to be done. The new leader is probably from the area they will be leading. But it isn’t absolutely essential; at very least they should have deep understanding of the jobs in their former workplace. What I’m looking for is that they don’t get suckered by overly simple solutions that have unwanted side effects.

The first three are part of the five core skills for any supervisor (see the inset box. However, if the person you select can listen well and has a deep understanding of the job, then they can learn the other skills.

So far I’ve been talking about how I select someone to become a leader. But if you’re asking about how to become a supervisor, turn the question around. What will the bosses be looking for when they are selecting new leaders? Then figure out how you can match that.

Look for opportunities to develop your skills in four areas:

  • Look for ways to improve the work in your area. Learn about the methods you can use to make local improvements. Study the companies that do a great job of improving, companies like Toyota and Wiremold and NorMac and AutoLiv and Menlo Innovations. Don’t worry if they aren’t in your industry. You’ll find ideas that you can use. Learn how to track the impact of your improvement activities. Learn how to convert the improvements into better work and lower costs.
  • Learn how to listen better. Your local college will have courses in communication. Look for courses where the focus is on listening and where you’ll get to practice. There are many community organizations that teach listening skills too. Parenting and marriage prep courses often have good content. Look for podcasts. And practice. Listen to your colleagues and try to understand what’s going on for them.
  • Pay attention to the sequences at work. Try to anticipate when your customer will need the material or information you provide. Think through your day and ask yourself what you can do to anticipate what’s next. Is there idle time during an operation that you can use to anticipate some future activity. Try to anticipate what your own supervisor is going to ask for.
  • Learn more of the jobs in your department. Be interested in the challenges at each of the workstations around yours. What makes the work slow down, and what makes the work flow? Ask about how your work could be presented that would make it easier to use at the next workstation.


If you pay attention to these four areas, your work will stand out. You will become someone your immediate supervisor will rely on. You will be nicely positioned the next time your organization looks for a new leader. If your current organization doesn’t recognize it, you’ll be nicely positioned to apply somewhere else.


The Five Core Skills

    1. Instructing
    2. Listening
    3. Setting Priorities
    4. Improving
    5. Dealing with performance that doesn’t meet the organization’s needs


these same skills apply at every level of an organization. When you work for more people (i.e. you are responsible for more people’s work) you need a higher level of skills, but they are in the same skill family.

link to come

Working Harder is NOT the point
All improvements should make it easier for the worker

And What To Do About It

Most of us have experienced a bad boss. What’s not so obvious is how bad bosses can undermine the best quality program in the world. Whether they are a bully or a wimp or a know-it-all or a control freak or an absentee, every bad boss undermines quality. Here’s how.

Bad Boss Type Quality Result
Bully Employees are afraid to report out-of-range values because they know they will be blamed. Measurements are either omitted or fudged.
Wimp The boss won’t deal with systems that aren’t working or employees making mistakes. Nothing changes. Bad practice becomes “normal,” and, to quote the songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”
Know-It-All This boss doesn’t listen. The observations of staff and their wonderings are ignored. It takes longer to find the source of quality issues, if they’re found at all. The ingenuity of staff is ignored, so only the boss’s ideas tried.
Control Freak These bosses won’t let anything happen without their say-so. This slows everything down, and tends to make staff complacent. “We’ll wait for the boss.”
Absentee This boss is fundamentally afraid of making a mistake or offending anyone. This boss drives nothing and doesn’t correct anything either. Things only happen if there are orders from higher up, or if someone takes on informal leadership.

For quality management staff, the challenge is that these effects arise, regardless of where the bad boss is in the organization. Just as orders and products move through departments in the organization, the quality effects of one area with a bad boss swirl across the other departments.

How then can someone with responsibilities for quality cope?

Here are two strategies that may help.

Get involved in the training

If the training of staff is inadequate or sloppy, the quality results will flow from that. But if you are able to help managers document and train faster, they’ll probably take you up on it. That gives you a possible avenue in.

Fortunately, there is a proven way to get those results, and along the way, they it has the spin-off effect of lower error rates and better retention of learning. The method is the Training Within Industry model of Job Instruction. This royalty-free method is in the public domain and is freely available. A coach is recommended to start, but you can do it without if you need. Even better, if you reach into the community of people using it, you can probably get some willing help for free.

The TWI Job Instruction works because it addresses both sides of the training equation:

  • It provides a fast and efficient way to document work methods, and
  • It provides a proven instructional approach that ensures understanding and mastery.

Using the TWI Job Instruction approach can help you at the starting point, getting employees to do tasks consistently AND correctly. This is the first strategy that can help you address quality issues, in spite of a bad boss.


If the boss won’t listen, you can. When you listen for understanding you can discover the circumstances in which things go awry. Once you have that worked out, it can become easier to nudge practice on the floor.

You may not be able to directly influence practice, but if you can hint and nudge in a thoughtful way, it can provide a route to influence outcomes.


Both these approaches rely on the premise that you change outcomes by changing the process. That’s a proven approach. And while working to improve quality when there is a bad boss around isn’t easy, these two strategies can help.


I’ll be doing a webinar based on these ideas with the ASQ Vancouver Chapter in August. You’ll be able to register for it at their website.

Image is from Ben Grey https://bit.ly/3hTi24j used under Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 4.0). Thanks, Ben.


What Were They Thinking? Or Were They?

Designed to Produce the Results You Have

As an industrial engineer, I find myself forever looking at things from a process perspective. Will this be usable? Will it make the objective harder or easier to achieve.

Here are a couple of examples from my neighbourhood where someone didn’t have the whole picture in mind. Both made the sidewalk fundamentally unusable for anyone with mobility challenges. Wheelchair, walker or baby stroller. It didn’t matter. The result was sidewalks that were impassable if you stayed on the hard surface.

The question that comes to mind is why? It is a question on several levels. But let me rephrase it from “why”, because why is often not very enlightening. It puts people on the defensive.

  • What was the training of the crew that meant they didn’t see the problem?
  • What was the nature of the supervision that the crew  didn’t feel they could raise a question?
  • What was the directive to the contractor – or what was in the contract – that the organization wasn’t prepared to go back to the city to identify the problem?
  • What happened that the designer wasn’t willing or able to go to the site to see whether what was on the design would work in practice.

All these questions and more. As a manager, you cannot tell where the failure is, just from the physical evidence. But for my bet, I would guess that several things conspired to create these issues.

  • The workers have either been ignored or chastised in the past when they have raised issues of design stupidity, so why would they bother this time.
  • The contractor has learned that the effort to question the designer is so onerous, or the response is so slow, that the company will be penalized for drawing it to the city’s attention.
  • The designer has 94 other projects on the go and gets the distinct impression from her boss that a field trip is just her way of getting out of “real work.”
  • The city has no standard system of hand-offs when information goes from one person to the next that is self-diagnostic when there is a mistake.
  • There are no checklists of the things that must be considered when designing a sidewalk or impinging on an existing sidewalk.

In other words, the system is set up to deliver these results. And only by rethinking at least some of the processes will we get different results.

If you are a supervisor, and you’re getting results you don’t want, the lesson is look at how the system or process is set up to deliver the results you have. Because that is what is happening. Your system is designed to produce the results you have.

We need parking signs

Who needs a sidewalk?

Street light pillar

Is this what they designed?