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In 2003, Subir Chowdhury realized his company needed to change and tailor its tools and services to fit each of its client’s circumstances. His colleagues and employees developed the management approach called LEO—for listen, enrich, and optimize—which has been transforming people and organizations ever since.
Chowdhury first wrote about LEO in a little book called, The Ice Cream Maker, in 2005. People around the world embraced Chowdhury’s message and many have since asked him, “In the Ice Cream Maker, you’ve given us a 30,000-foot look at LEO. How about bringing it down to 5,000 feet?” It wasn’t until LEO was proven in all types of companies in all sizes that Chowdhury felt he could respond to their requests, and he has in The Power of LEO: The Revolutionary Process for Achieving Extraordinary Results (McGraw Hill, 2011).
It doesn’t take long for you to see that this isn’t just another business book on improving processes; it also applies to everyone on a personal level. And Chowdhury writes from the heart. I enjoyed his easy-to-read case histories of businesses that have taken the LEO approach, and it has proven to be equally effective at putting out fires, transforming process flow, and for developing new products and services.
LEO doesn’t play the blame game. LEO starts with the belief that everyone wants to do a good job. The object of LEO is not to achieve perfection, but to keep moving toward it. Keep matters as simple as possible. Don’t disrupt operations.
LISTEN: observe and understand. To truly comprehend the issue at hand, put aside assumptions and interact directly; listen to the customers, suppliers, and employees. Walk the gemba. Take notes. Clarify what the relevant parties are saying. Make it easy for them to discuss/provide the information in a setting where they can be comfortable and not afraid to divulge everything they’d really like to say. Pinpoint the customer’s real needs and the real nature of the problem.
ENRICH: explore and discover. Once you have gathered the data, make sure everyone is up to date on what was learned during the listen stage and understands the current state of the problem. Ask what a process would be like if there were no problems interrupting the workflow. More issues can be revealed, and your understanding of the problem will deepen. Keep in mind that what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked, so search for alternate ways to solve the problem.
OPTIMIZE: improve and perfect. During the optimization, the solution that emerged during the enrich stage is used as a starting point. Put your mind into a future framework in which the solution is actually put into effect. Here is where solutions’ weaknesses can be found. Focus on ways in which a company can make things go right.
The success of your efforts depends on the level of commitment from management during the listen, enrich, and optimize approach. And to truly be committed, there are four principles with which you must be in accord. Chowdhury calls them “cornerstones” because the more you abide by them, the more your LEO experience will align with your expectations.
The cornerstones are:
Quality is my responsibility. It takes enterprisewide dedication on a personal level to attain real quality. Are your actions at work advancing quality? Do they improve the customer’s experience with the company? The attitude of “quality is my responsibility” resonates and motivates others.
All the people, all the time. Regularly encourage all employees to share their ideas. Make it known that their voice is important. Acknowledge their efforts in contributing toward greater quality and continuous improvement of their own performance.
An I-can-do-it mindset. Encourage employees to think outside the box. Empower them so they are able to take action.
No one size fits all. Solutions must be tailor-made to the specific needs of the particular company.
Just as physicians often prescribe drugs for symptoms, temporarily masking the disease, so too, do managers look for a quick fix, managing by taking care of the symptoms. Chowdhury writes, “The LEO approach is especially effective at finding organic solutions to management problems. LEO can operate on a systemic level—by studying the overall design of a process, for example. If a basic flaw can be detected and corrected at that level, the benefits will flow through the whole process.”