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What is Your Line of Sight?


What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this question? Does your organization recognize that this question can be used to create—or define—gaps that can be addressed? That’s because having a “line of sight” orients people towards a specific direction with a goal in mind. In the case of a business or an organization we frequently call that True North. Unfortunately, in my travels, I find that not every place I visit has a clearly defined True North. And the repercussions of lacking one are serious.

When I worked at Toyota our True North statement was always there as our company’s guiding beacon. No matter what an individual did or what level they reached in the organization you could tie your daily work into that statement. 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 people.

This statement enables you to visualize the key performance indicators such as quality, cost, productivity, safety, and human resources. These indicators drive the company to improve their processes, which in turn boosts those results we all focus on. This type of True North is evolutionary, meaning that if you achieve the lowest cost, you can then raise the bar and continue to improve. I’ve seen True North statements say something like, “To be #1 in the market.” That feels misleading to me. Does this statement put the customer first? Is that the first thing on their minds? We often have to be careful with such a results-oriented direction. It’s more so about the processes that get us there.

Our Toyota True North allowed us to look at our own work as the business goals cascaded downward from the 50,000 foot level of the organization down to the 1000 foot level. It helped everyone articulate what they were doing, how they were contributing, and what they should be measuring.

Let’s take a look at how a sequence of questions can keep us aligned to that True North focused on adding value. During my training sessions I always ask people about their line of sight. This is often eye-opening for people—a way to challenge them to reflect on how much of their work is actively contributing towards the company goals in the best way they can.

The first question I ask is What is your role in the organization? This makes people 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 rarely defined by our leaders from day one.

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 involved with all my responsibilities? Sometimes I ask, “why did the company hire you?”  Or, what is your true responsibility in regard to the business goals?

The third question I ask is What is your job’s purpose?   Most people come back and say, “what do you mean what is my purpose, my purpose is to do what I’m told?” I chuckle 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 we are spinning our wheels. Just as we all have seen the “Got Milk” ads in the past, I ask, “Got Purpose?”

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 see people staring to the left or 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 meet the results!”  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, then 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!  See the previous column on the 4P’s https://www.lean.org/a3dojo/ColumnArchive.cfm?y=2012#Col2034

The last question I ask is What are the company goals?  This empowers people to align themselves with True North and how they contribute. As I stated before, how do you go from the 50,000 foot 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. 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)

Let me show you a very simple example that I often use in my sessions that I did for my own line of sight as a problem solving instructor.  Yes I practice what I teach.

My role: problem solving Instructor

My work responsibility: 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 that 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 that 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.

In closing, I hope this column gives some insights toward your personal line of sight within your company and your role. Moreover, I hope that this helps you understand better 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 start aligning ourselves!

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