“I Am Delighted”

Several months ago, I stopped in to grab breakfast at a local McDonalds.  I don’t do fast food much (other than Chick-fil-A to get a chicken salad sandwich).  I could not help but notice the passionate worker who handed the food trays to customers.  She was an older woman, small-framed, and sprightly.  As she handed the tray to each customer, she would say, “I am delighted.”  That’s it.  “I am delighted.”  I thought this was odd because, she did not say, “I am delighted to serve you” or “I am delighted you chose McDonald’s.”  She just said, “I am delighted” and left it hanging out there like a dangling modifier with nowhere to land.

It didn’t make much sense to me why she used such an incomplete phrase, unless she was merely communicating her overall emotional state.   But hey, if she was delighted, she was clearly the only employee there who was.

Last week, same McDonald’s – I drove through the drive through.  The lady taking my order said, “I am delighted.  May I take your order?”  I figured the delighted lady from my previous visit months ago had been moved to taking orders at the drive through.  When I pulled around, I was surprised to see a younger, more robust woman.  Apparently, she had joined the delighted revival since my last visit.   She took my payment.  I said a quick thank you, to which she said, “I am delighted.”   The phrase still sounded kind of awkward to me.  “Delighted about what?” I wondered.

At the second window, I picked up my oatmeal or bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit with hash browns – I can remember which exactly.  Before I could say a word, the even younger teenager, said to me, “Here you go.  I am delighted.”  Very weird.

Maybe it’s possible the older lady who began saying, “I am delighted” is really delighted.  Maybe she has an inner light that keeps her delighted.  Maybe that is what she means when she says “I am delighted.”  Maybe her delight is contagious because several months ago, no one else in that McDonald’s was delighted and now they all seem to be delighted.  Maybe I’m not quite as skeptical as I used to be about the impact of one person’s positive energy on an entire organization.

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Process Improvement Is A Leadership Sport by Jason Kilgore

I’ve written over 30 blog posts since I began this blogging journey.  Most of those posts have outlined a step-by-step approach to various aspects of process improvement.  I recently attended our annual leadership conference.  In the hours and days since, I’ve given much thought on the human side of process improvement.  Yes, the skills required to streamline processes are somewhat specialized and impersonal.  However, the softer skills of leadership are even more important.  I’ve been blessed to work with and for some great innovators.  Here are six common themes I see in them.

  1. Persistence:  Constant, steady goals that don’t change with the season.  We admire leaders who set clear targets and push until the objectives have been achieved.  Changing goals flippantly and failing to hold the team accountable creates division, lack of focus, and frustration.  Great leaders set the vision and steer the ship.
  2. Pragmatism:  Everyone appreciates a pragmatic approach to solving problems.  Great leaders think and speak in terms their teams understand.  While getting the results may require complex planning and execution, a great leader knows how to break down the issues, communicate effectively, and not overwhelm the team with extraneous minutia.
  3. Persuasion:  Sometimes, the team needs to be persuaded.  Persuasion (not to be confused with coercion) is the ability of the leader to inspire his or her team to willingly perform the work to be done.  Process improvement is tough.  Change requires courage.  The power of persuasion is an valuable tool in ensuring great results.
  4. Personality:  People respond to people they like.  Many times, process improvement requires leading people who get discouraged.  As such, being able encourage the team is critical to keep the team moving forward when the project gets tough and the eventual success is in question.
  5. Personal integrity:  The leader’s personal integrity bonds the team around a common purpose.  An effective leader is transparent, up-front, and honest with the team.  Kind, yet clear – the leader is able to prevent dissention among the team by treating team members fairly, listening to their ideas, and giving each the opportunity to perform optimally.
  6. Patience:  Get it done fast, but get it done right.  Patience is the ability to balance results-orientation and time for thinking it through.  We tend to swing between two extremes:  hurriedness and analysis.  Finding the sweet spot somewhere in the middle is the key getting results expeditiously and getting the results desired.

There have been a million books written on leadership.  All of them likely have some good information.  But there is not a book that can replace watching the great leaders in our own lives, learning from them, making our own mistakes, and improving our personal leadership style.

We Ignore Data Because We Are Delusional – by Jason Kilgore

I love data.  I teach college statistics for fun.  Data sheds light on the truth and sometimes that truth is offensive, causing us to become defensive.  Sure, it is always worthwhile to question the data source, veracity, and collection method.  Yet, even when the data is solid, we ignore data we don’t like.  I call it Data Denial Syndrome.  And we are all guilty of it.  As defined by me, DDS is a condition whereby we emotionally ignore what our analytical brain knows to be true.  Here are half a dozen delusions commonly associated with DDS.

1.  Delusion:  “The data doesn’t match what people are telling me.”   Reality:  People are telling you what you want to hear.  Stories people tell are anecdotal and are true only in the singular moment when the event occurred.  Meaningful data is a summary of all the facts, including the facts we subconsciously filter out.

2.  Delusion:  “Statistics often lie.”  Reality:  Good statistics mirror the larger population.  When appropriately collected, the samples answer a very specific question.  Sometimes we try to use specific results to answer a question for which that data set was never intended to answer.  Data doesn’t lie, but sometimes we ask it to answer the wrong question.

3.  Delusion:  “We’re still better than half the companies out there.”   Reality:  There are 120 teams in NCAA Division 1 football.  It is unlikely that you know which team was ranked 59th, just two spots above the bottom half.  It was Wake Forrest and they had a losing record.  And, they are perennially irrelevant to all but a handful of alumni.

4.  Delusion: “The data looks bad, but we are the exception.”  Reality:  No you are not. In fact, those claiming to be the exception are often in the majority.  The truly exceptional don’t play the “we-are-the-exception” card.  They simply accept the data, act decisively, and fix their problems.  In so doing, they become exceptional.

5.  Delusion:  “This data is an anomaly.”   Reality:  Ted Williams had a 0.344 lifetime batting average.   Only once in nineteen seasons did his yearly batting average drop below 0.300.  More often, his average exceeded 0.400.  If your “bad anomalies” occur more frequently than your “good anomalies,” your “bad anomalies” are, in reality, a trend.

6.  [My favorite] Delusion: “The sample size is not valid.”  Reality: Sample size correlates to certainty, not validity.  Without boring you with the details, increasing the sample size of a data set allows us to see the data with more precision.  It does not render the information invalid.  If I were to randomly survey five of your customers and all five say your company sucks, it is not fair to say that their responses are invalid.  We can say with certainty that those five people may or may not represent 100% of your customers.  Just because the sample size is five does not make those responses any more or less valid or any less actionable.

Here’s the simple truth:  Positive data is not actionable, but negative data highlights opportunity.  Data that points to our flaws gives us the opportunity to improve.  Therefore, time spent trying to excuse, invalidate, or justify unflattering data is time wasted.  Use data to understand weaknesses and available resources to improve processes.