By Kathryn Gamelin, Deputy Court Clerk, Westminster Municipal Court
Hello from Westminster! My name is Kathryn Gamelin and I graduated from Peak Academy, Cohort 53. As part of a process improvement effort in my community, known affectionately as “Westy”, I applied and was selected to attend Denver Peak Academy’s week-long Black Belt Training.
I work as a Court Clerk in the Westminster Municipal Court. We like to say that our customers come to see us by mandatory invitation. We’ll even give them a ride if they don’t want to join us… and a bed for the night if they are particularly adamant about not attending. You can imagine that our popularity is low.
I came out of Black Belt Training full of ideas and energy, from an environment of support for efficiency and innovation, into a brick wall of coworkers’ mistrust. Some had a misunderstanding that I was returning to the Court to change how they do everything with nary an iota of input from them. Most doubted that I could make any change at all. What could I possibly do? I’m just a clerk, after all. It turns out, I can do a lot.
Being a rather stubborn person, my response to the oeuvre of distrust was to double down. In the two weeks following my training, I did three Kanbans and six A3s. I met with individual clerks on their most hated processes, presented to the supervisors and division manager, and prepared a report for the Presiding Judge. We tackled big processes with lots of moving pieces, like changing which cases needed mandatory court appearances, and small ones, like not printing documents that no one will ever look at. “You can’t do that,” morphed into, “I wish we could do that,” morphed into, “Why can’t we do that?” Now, we’re starting to see the most beautiful phrase of all: “We’re fixing that!”
I learned a lot in this process and I’d like to share my lessons learned “In the wild,” as Peak instructor Kate May would say:
- Some people are not going to join in until the last possible moment, then they are going to act like they’ve been doing the new thing all along. That’s fine. In a secret moment, just acknowledge to yourself that you won that battle and move on.
- Most managers don’t really say, “No.” They’ll say everything around the word, but never the word itself. I think they might feel mean when they say it. This is fantastic, though, because their lack of conviction is your opportunity to interpret their response as, “not yet.” It’s up to you to figure out what’s holding them back, and work around it.
- Use your personality to your advantage. If you are quiet and excel at winning people over through your written work, then write up your A3 and submit it for review. If you are outgoing and loud, then bring everyone into the “do things better” party. I was once described as “somewhat like an avalanche” in my style of persuasion, going hard and fast in the direction I wanted to go, pulling people with me simply because they couldn’t figure out how not to go. Some people hate me for it, but we got where we wanted to go.
- Use what works for you, learn what doesn’t. I used a bunch of the Black Belt tools to facilitate change in my workplace. I love process mapping and spaghetti diagrams. I’m terrible at “5 Whys”. (I know what you mean now, Brian!) In my workgroup, there were people whose brains innately understood 5 Whys and it was great that I could facilitate their use of it even though it’s not my strong point. In the end, we collaborated better and were more of a team because my weak point was someone else’s strong point. There’s a lesson in that too.
- Learn the difference between discomfort and pain. In process improvement (and in life), we need to know the difference between pain and discomfort.
- Discomfort is the mental anguish of working through a process; it’s the constructive criticism that stings in the moment, but spurs you to new heights; it’s the answer “no” that means “not yet,” which helps you find a better way to do what you want to do. These things help you grow and build your team. Heed these things!
- Pain is the non-constructive criticism; it is the heckling, the lack of belief, and the ad hominem attacks; it is meant only to hurt you or make you stop trying to improve. Ignore these things and keep working to be better!
- Metrics and numbers are like your children. You’re going to pull your hair out figuring them out, but they’ll show you how to be better and you’ll point to them as your biggest accomplishments in the end. Learn to love them with all of their quirks.