By: Felicity Pino and Shelly Hammer at Children's Mercy Kansas City
“You have one direct report who still needs to enroll for annual benefits. The deadline to enroll is in two days. Please remind these employee(s) that they must enroll by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25.”
What would most managers do after receiving this email?
Likely a traditional manager would track down the direct report and remind them to enroll immediately. Aside from another email from Human Resources reminding the manager to remind the direct report again to enroll, the manager has little insight into when successful enrollment is completed. The manager therefore might notify the employee again to confirm enrollment, interrupting the employee’s workflow, perhaps unnecessarily if the employee has indeed already enrolled. Overall, the manager would spend time managing the HR actions of a single direct report.
What did Felicity Pino, a director at Children’s Mercy, do when she received this email?
She deleted it!
Her team doesn’t need her to micromanage their enrollment in annual benefits. The team manages itself using an active and visual daily management board. The board is accessible to each team member 24/7 and it’s reviewed by the team collectively every day.
On the board a section, which Children’s Mercy terms “Methods,” lists all thirteen team members with a color indicator, red or green, indicating compliance. Over the years, this section has been used to confirm compliance with HR mandates, IT security requirements, teleworking requirements, and communication tasks, to mention a few. Other departments use their Methods section for things like 5S checks and room readiness. There truly is no end to the many ways that the Methods section can be used for tracking process-related readiness.
Team member Chris Kelly describes the Methods section as particularly helpful when a team is improving or changing a process. With changes to a process, the team needs to ensure all staff have been trained and are performing the new process as intended. The Methods section tracks this training and performance of staff. The visibility given to all team members through the Methods section has proven to be essential in the sustainment of improvement work.
Team members have a visual reminder to complete the task listed by a specified date. High Reliability Science tells us that simply reviewing feedback to compliance with standards results in 80% compliance or more (Nolan, 2004). In most cases, Pino’s team have seen compliance with listed methods exceed 80% prior to the specified deadline. For example, all the individuals from the team were asked, in order to prepare for a Catalysis guest speaker, to review a webinar and submit two questions for the guest. All (100%) completed the request within the three-week deadline and experienced an engaging session as a result! In another example, when the organization announced that the offices formerly occupied by the department would now be converted to a post-pandemic common workspace, compliance with clearing out individual desk spaces (albeit with each individual working from home at the time) was 33% in three weeks’ time, 75% within one month, and 100% within five weeks’ time.
In fact, Pino’s team has used the Methods section for approximately 24 separate tasks over the course of 15 months (April 2020 through June 2021), and only two of those tasks didn’t result in 100% compliance in time for the deadline. One of the two tasks that didn’t reach 100% compliance in time showed 83% at the deadline; the other showed 92% at the deadline. For each of those tasks, the gap was then transferred to the problem-solving section of the Readiness board, and both reached 100% two days later.
Team member Art Gangel describes the Methods section as “a constant, gentle, visual reminder of things I need to take care of that might otherwise fall off my radar. It really helps clarify the short list of priorities that the team is focused on in the short term, and how I can be a team player.”
The team members hold each other accountable - not in a competitive or judgmental way, but in a supportive, all-learning-together way. If one team member is away during the daily board review, another team member might reach out “Hey, I noticed you’re still red on the board, let me know if I can help you.” Team members can look to those who are “green” for answering questions or sharing tips.
The Methods section operationalizes the lean principle of respect for every individual by demonstrating trust that individual team members can manage their responsibilities and do not need their leader to intervene unless there is a problem. Additionally, the Methods section provides indirect coaching for problem solving. If a front-line staff member is not fulfilling an obligation in the Methods section, other team members will usually address it to help resolve the problem. It also honors the concept of using visual management to surface issues. If a team member is not compliant, the red visual prompts others on the team to ask about low bandwidth, missing information or knowledge, safety issues, or discomfort to ultimately equip the individual to complete the necessary task comfortably and safely.
The team members feel that the Methods section is helpful for keeping everyone on the same page. Team member Shelly Hammer particularly enjoys how the Methods section can be used to quickly get people on the same page about any process changes and new directions from leadership. She also appreciates the frequency of changes in this section of the huddle board and how the regular updates to the Methods section keep the board dynamic. But perhaps Hammer’s favorite effect is the teamwork that frequently results from review of the Methods section at daily team huddles.
One specification for using the section: it must be used as an objective way to track requirements of individuals. Asking team members to report personal information – such as a daily well-being status - is best left as optional so team members feel comfortable to opt out. For optional tasks, reporting “green” signifies successful completion or opting out. It is therefore important that the team define clearly which items are required standards versus optional tasks.
Initially, the addition of the Methods section to the team’s board was done simply to follow the standard set for the organization years ago. The standard for all huddle boards across the organization consists of one section entitled “Methods” that has a predefined threshold for red or green. Across the organization, although every board includes the Methods section standard, not all teams truly utilize the Methods section to its full potential. Teams that do utilize it realize the importance of proactively checking adherence to processes and, as mentioned above, see a lot of benefits from the section.
The Methods section is arguably one of the most powerful sections on huddle boards, yet often underutilized. The team members feel empowered. Email traffic is reduced. Interruptions are fewer. And the manager is freed to focus more on strategic work, cultural improvements, or higher-level team development. Overall, the team’s performance is elevated, and this is all due to a small section on a visual management board.