C-Suite Network™

Leaders Inspire Trust with The Learning Cycle

A systems thinker avoids expressing blame because it damages trust and does nothing to address the real root causes of mistakes or problems.

“Where the rubber meets the road” is a popular phrase that means “there is a point where a theory is applied.” What does a leader do when there is a mistake and/or poor results? This is where the rubber meets the road. How does that leader facilitate improvement? What does that leader do to protect trust and address the root cause?

Leaders need a problem-solving skill that addresses problems and protects trust. They need a problem-solving skill that gives them total confidence the problem will be addressed without micromanagement. They need a skill that reinforces a self-organizing, self-managing, environment. This skill must enable people to tell the truth, to manage trust, and to be optimally innovative.

Matchbooks have been around since the late 1800s. The first ones had the striking strip on the front of the book along with a warning “Close cover before striking.” Careless consumers would often set the entire book on fire because the other matches were easily exposed to a spark when one match was struck. The warning was an “easy” way to solve the problem. It put the responsibility on the consumer to follow instructions and to be careful doing it. This solution did little to solve the problem.

It wasn’t until 1962 that a true solution was found. The manufacturers moved the striking strip to the back of the matchbook, thus preventing a spark from igniting the other matches. This was a true solution to a problem. The solution required a significant change in the manufacturing process. It required innovation and an investment in time and money. It required thought and a predictable problem-solving method. It exemplifies how a change in the system will influence behaviors. This method is known as Plan-Do-Check-Act, the scientific method, and/or the learning cycle.

The learning cycle can be traced back at least as far as Galileo, who developed the idea of making observations, creating a hypothesis and then conducting an experiment. Edison used the method to test 6,000 materials before finding the one that proved to be most practical and cost effective for the filament for a light bulb.

Plan-Do-Check-Act is the recommended problem-solving method for leaders who want to protect trust. It requires the creation of an action PLAN including the steps of knowing what to improve, creating a hypothesis that offers hope for a solution, the identification of the current condition of the problem, and how to measure the success.

The DO portion is carrying out the planned experiment. The CHECK portion is about analyzing data to see if the hypothesis was correct. The ACT portion is about deciding to revise the hypothesis, revise the method, or to adopt the method just tested. The adoption of Plan-Do-Check-Act creates an environment where blame is unnecessary. Every member of a team can contribute their ideas and their effort to experimenting with new hypotheses and with new methods.

Are you using the Learning Cycle? Are you teaching and coaching it?  Are you team members using it?  These are the opportunities for leaders who want to inspire trust.

Adopting PDCA makes problem solving a fun exercise that can involve everyone. It creates engagement and improved quality for customers. Proper and frequent use of PDCA leads to great ideas like moving the striking strip. The adoption of PDCA starts with the C-Suite leader and that is why Dr. W. Edwards Deming once said, “Quality starts in the boardroom.”

The skill of using PDCA requires knowledge, the embrace of systems thinking, the appreciation of self-organizing systems, patience to avoid jumping to conclusions (the most obvious answer of the moment), the discipline to invest time and energy in experimentation, and the desire to teach others. It’s comprehensive.

Being a leader can go to one’s head, encouraging the belief one is omniscient. That belief will damage trust. Enabling everyone to use PDCA in their work boosts trust and engagement and avoids the trust-damaging belief that leaders must always be omniscient.

Wally Hauck, PhD has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal.  Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.   Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP.  Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.  See other resources here.

For more, read on: https://c-suitenetwork.com/advisors/advisor/wally-hauck/

Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP
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