by Tracey Richardson
In a company sense, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this question? Often times within certain organizations it can be a “gap creator”. What we mean by that is, having a “line of sight” often means a process owner should be looking towards a specific direction with a goal in mind. In the case of a business or an organization we frequently call that – True North (Some call Vision or Mission Statement). We have found throughout our travels that not every place we visit has a clearly defined one. What could be the repercussions if we don’t have one?
With my roots being from Toyota I often reflect on the true north statement that was always there during my time as our company’s guiding beacon; no matter what an individual did or what level they reached in the organization vertically or horizontally you could connect your daily work into that statement. In The Toyota Engagement Equation Book, we talk about this process before it was so formalized years later.
For example, a true north statement could look similar to this:
We will always put the Customer first, while making the highest quality product, at the
lowest cost, in the shortest lead time, in the safest manner, all while respecting our
I remember when the Toyota Business Practices (TBP) 8 step Problem Solving process was introduced to us at the plant in 2004, it was the first class that embedded this line of sight activity within all our work. We had to look deeply at each A3 and determine was the ultimate goal of solving the problem tied (measured) to current KPI’s. This created a need for us to deeply demonstrate our knowledge about the process as a learner and eventually a coach in the process. It is crucial to know the “why” of the work.
As you look at the true north statement you can visualize the key performance indicators (KPI’s) such as quality, cost, productivity, safety, and human resources (Q,C,P,S,HR). These indicators are what drive the company to improve their processes which in turn assist those results we all tend to focus on heavily. This type of true north is evolutionary, meaning if you reach the lowest cost then raise the bar on yourself and continue to improve it (continuous improvement/kaizen). I’ve seen true north statements say something like – “To be #1 in the market.” Although I feel that is misleading at times, but the more important part of that is the customer- is that the first thing on their minds? We often have to be careful with such a result-oriented direction or statement. It’s more so about the processes / thinking that get us there. Being #1 is the bonus for good thinking, not our first target! My trainer used to tell me if you invest heavily in the process (how you work), good results with be the result as long as we engage, involve and empower those creating the outputs, services, or products (visible/invisible).
The true north example above, allowed us to look at our own work as the business goals cascaded downward from the 50,000 foot level of the organization to the 1000 foot level. It’s essential that everyone articulates what they are doing to contribute and measure. If they fall short of that then we could ask the question- “How value-added are we”? Let’s take a look at how a sequence of questions can align us to that true north and ensure we are adding value.
During our sessions we embed the time to ask specific questions in regard to the line of sight activity. It normally is a real eye-opener to some as they realize what they are doing (sometimes reacting-i.e. firefighting) isn’t always contributing towards the company goals in the best way they could be. It can really be alarming when we have found our standards are now how best to process rework. These questions below should weed out the non-value add if we have the discipline and accountability to ask them.
The first question I ask them is – What is your role in the organization?
This makes them think about their role or scope of work. This may seem like a simple task to many, but it’s “deceptively” simple as we continue to ask more questions. Believe it or not, some struggle with articulating their specific role. It’s often not always defined by our leaders from day one nor do we have time to invest in that in the current market. What is the price for not investing or holding ourselves accountable?
The second question is – What is my work responsibility?
This allows you to think about what you are truly responsible for in your daily work in regard to your role. What is all involved with my responsibilities? Sometimes we ask “why did the company hire you?” How are you going to add value? What is your true responsibility in regard to the business goals?
The third question I ask is – What is your job’s purpose?
This particular question begins the thinking process, most come back and say – “what do you mean what is my purpose, my purpose is to do what I’m told?” I grin inside as they continue the exercise, because it continues to challenge them further and gaps begin to surface. It’s hard to take sometimes but we all should drive our purpose towards specific standards which contribute to the business need. Otherwise, are we spinning our wheels? Just as we all have seen the “Got Milk” ads in the past – I ask, “Got Purpose?” This can be a challenge in the leadership levels, they really need to grasp this thinking in order to share it with those doing the work and first line leaders. It is a cultural responsibility we all should take seriously and with pride. There was never a time when I didn’t feel part of something special at TMMK, mainly because I understood the depth of my role at each level.
The fourth question I ask is – What are the goals that guide your job’s purpose?
Am I making this more difficult or what? I normally start see people staring to the left to the right depending upon what side of the brain they are pulling information from. It’s an interesting process to witness because some have never thought of it in the context I’m making them think of before. Some say, “What do you mean the goals that guide me? - I met the results, isn’t that good enough?!” This is where I give them a hint towards their key performance indicators. Everyone’s job has to be aligned with those key performance indicators we discussed before. If not how do you really know if you are creating value? How are you measuring your own work back to the company’s goals? This is why true north and cascading goals are essential in a culture focused on people, purpose, process and problem solving.
The last question I ask is – What are the company goals?
This empowers them to align themselves with true north and how they contribute. As I stated before, how do you go from the 50,000 goal to the 1000 foot level. It’s an upward cascade regarding your work that parallels with the downward cascade of the strategy deployment of the business plan. Once I finish the series of questions I tell them to write “My own Ideal Situation”, to the side. What we have created in essence is that very thing. If we know our role, purpose, the goals that guide us, and the company goals then we should be able to articulate with our daily actions where we are against that standard at any time. When you lower the river to see the rocks it’s your own personal development towards the company’s goal which in turn proves your contribution to long term sustainability and growth due to your actions aligning. We also should be versed in the company values as well, bringing them to life in tangible ways people can see from us and measure. When they don’t align you can always ask why and understand what is keeping you from those goals. (Almost like a background A3 running in regard to your own performance- imagine that)
" Being #1 is the bonus for good thinking, not our first target! "
Let me show you a very simple example that we share with our clients during our sessions that I (Tracey) did for my own line of sight as a problem-solving instructor when I was a Human Resources contract trainer from 2000-2010. Yes, I/we try to practice what we teach and demonstrate knowledge.
My role – TBP Problem Solving Instructor
My work responsibility – is to learn, understand and practice the problem-solving process /thinking (PDCA) and also how the company values/principles are intertwined with that thinking to deliver training sessions to various organizations.
My job’s purpose – to effectively deliver the problem-solving process to any level /role within the organization that ignites a culture of ongoing thinkers who are able to see gaps against a standard. (*Note I underlined effectively in the sentence above, I measure my effectiveness as an instructor during and after a class to see if I’m meeting their expectations).
What are the goals that guide my job’s purpose – for my participants to learn, understand, practice, and develop their people in problem solving in order to fulfill the company’s values and true north vision. (*Note I underlined develop in the sentence above, it is part of the goals that guide me that I teach at a rigorous level so participants can not only learn themselves but also eventually develop others)
What are my company goals – to fulfill the customers’ expectations by providing, high quality training, which enables them to do business differently by changing how their people think and do business.
So this is my personal line of sight, which I consider my ideal situation. It’s evolutionary and constantly makes me improve how I teach based on the customers’ response. In essence it’s a gap creator for me that I always look at as my standard and where I am at against it. When I fall short, I look for ways to improve and raise the bar on myself.
In closing, I hope this column gives some insights toward your personal line of sight within your company and your role, but further more do you understand the importance of everyone having one that leads upward to the company true north. This makes it much easier to cascade your business plan down through the organization. If people don’t understand it, they tend to be reactive; reactive isn’t something you want to develop has a habit.
Now let’s get to aligning ourselves!
Tracey and Ernie Richardson had the unique opportunity after a rigid hiring process to be part of the startup phase at the first solely owned North American plant for Toyota Motor Corporation in Georgetown, KY (TMMK). She learned from Japanese trainers and coordinators who had been influenced by Taiichi Ohno himself. Tracey Ernie lead, learn and coach a wide variety of businesses to focus on the “people side” creating an environment for each process owner to be more than they thought they ever thought they were capable up by nudging their comfort zone and aligning their work with the company true north. She has 33 years’ experience in the Human Resources Training and Development side as well as production experience as hourly and salary positions. She is a believer for sharing collective wisdom with the next generation.