There's no time like the present for your studio team to grow more productive, and yet the sterile language of many continuous improvement processes can make creative types bristle. That's why Daniel Jester, host of The Creative Operations Podcast, brought Terence Mahone of Farfetch to the pod. Before joining Farfetch, Terence worked with Daniel in Amazon's photography studio, so Daniel can attest to Terence's ability to get a team's buy-in toward these processes.
(If you're new to continuous improvement processes, they are, in short, frameworks to question and better services, products, and procedures. Six Sigma, Lean, and Toyota are among the most popular examples-each with its own certification process and whatnot-but there are many others, and they're all united by a school of thought that especially values employee feedback.)
For the full episode, listen from our website, or from Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music. But if all you need is a list of clear takeaways, read on.
Think Both Bottom-Up and Top-Down
When you introduce a continuous improvement process-in Terence's experience, that has involved a lot of Six Sigma concepts-you want to make sure you have ground-up buy-in from the majority of your team. But before that, whatever your process, you need top-down support from senior leadership.
Daniel and Terence put a gardening metaphor on it. "You can throw seeds down on a patch of dirt and hope for the best," Daniel says, "or you can build the best possible environment to allow those seeds to do their thing, and create the best possible growing environment to get the best fruit out of your garden."
Create Language That Translates in Your Studio
While at Amazon, Terence realized the extent to which being a leader of creatives means being a translator between artists and management, because creative-speak isn't always understood in the C-suite, nor is all business jargon well-received on the studio floor.
Ideally, continuous improvement training and learning is a translating tool that makes studio managers less of a go-between. It makes a way for creatives to take something they innately possess, abilities to question, create, and synthesize, and to "formalize that into a type of language that management can understand."
People roll their eyes if a training program imposes its lingo in their workplace, so don't thoughtlessly let a program force you into terminology that doesn't fit real-life scenarios in your studio. Instead, use a program that creates translatable language for your studio life, enabling people experiencing pain-points to explain what they're going through and how the team might help ease that pain.
"If we give them the language and the tools to describe it and to describe the impacts accurately, and to start to wrap metrics around it, then management hears that much better," Mahone says.
If we give them the language and the tools to describe it and to describe the impacts accurately, and to start to wrap metrics around it, then management hears that much better.
Start Solutions-First Chatter in Your Studio
For Terence, one of the payoffs of implementing a continuous improvement program is that he's no longer the dumping spot for complaints. He recalls having team members who approach him with problem after problem-"I see them walking up to me and I see the look on their face and I dread what's going to happen next," he says.
Continuous improvement programs have helped him reprogram those interactions with his team. Now he's being approached with potential solutions to whatever problem is being brought up.
"Instead of solving problems, all you have to do is channel energy," Mahone says. "To me, what a relief as a manager to have that kind of a watershed change between dreading what your employees come to you with and cherishing what they come to you with."
Instead of having to solve problems, all you have to do is channel energy. What a relief...to have that kind of a watershed change between dreading what your employees come to you with and cherishing [it].
Learn to Sell Your Program and its Results
If you're struggling to persuade members of your team to embrace a continuous improvement program, Terence recommends selling them on two things: how change is most effective when it comes directly from the people doing the job, and that people grow professionally from taking such responsibility.
Once you've persuaded people to participate in a program, you may have to persuade others, especially management, to appreciate its effectiveness. Daniel says that if you're communicating with someone who thinks in narrow terms of dollars and bottom lines, "you can usually get creative with how you find a metric to support a change that you know is the right thing to do."
That extra effort to create data points for change, will help you maintain support for your program.
Want the full discussion, which covered Gemba Walks, smoking on airplanes, and Terence counting the number of times his teammates had to bend to the ground? Listen to all of Episode 9 on our site, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music.