Accelerating Growth Through Continuous Improvement

The Red Card / Green Card Method

On our Lean Journey at Medtronic Surgical Products in Jacksonville, we developed a robust process to assist in modifying and improving the behaviors of individuals on a continuous basis. We called this method Red Card / Green Card and found it be highly effective. I feel strongly that integrating this method into your Lean operating system will prove to be a valuable, game-changer throughout your Lean journey.

Many of us have experienced a 360 feedback review processes. The 360 allows us to reflect on the specifics of our behaviors compared to the feedback of others. These reviews provide a laundry list of personal opportunities for improvement, based on formal feedback from colleagues and direct reports. The information received from the 360 system is comprehensive but also frequently overwhelming. In addition, I’ve found the 360 system isn’t always aligned with the necessary Lean leadership behaviors. We all have many areas in which we can develop and improve, but the lack of a clear focus often leads to unimpressive returns. My experience is that the 360 approach often is disjointed, cumbersome, and ineffective. We needed to come up with a system that blended better with our culture.

In Jacksonville, the A3 method had been fully embraced and utilized as a part of our standard work for several years. We decided to leverage our skills with A3 problem solving and incorporate it into an approach that could reliably and positively impact leadership behaviors and actions. We decided that Red Card/ Green Card would create an effective framework to sustainably improve the capability, performance, and coaching ability of our leaders.

I previously shared the Red Card / Green Card method in my book, Anatomy of a Lean Leader, and will provide a summary in the paragraphs below.

It’s worth noting that after a couple of years of using this method, I discovered at a Lean Enterprise Institute conference that Toyota had been deploying A3s to address behavioral issues for many years. I wasn’t surprised and felt that applying the A3 to people development makes a lot of sense. Our approach had different nuances from Toyota but maintained the same core objectives:  to continuously improve the capability of our leaders and to develop people throughout our site.

This is how the process worked

  1. A leader (i.e., value stream manager) would distribute a red and a green index card to each of their direct reports.
  2. On the red card, the subordinate listed two specific ways that the leader was failing to meet expectations.
  3. On the green card, the subordinate provided examples of two positive behaviors.
  4. The team members didn’t put their names on either card and remained anonymous.
  5. The leader’s boss and a representative of HR proceeded to review every card.
  6. The two most common behavioral traits were selected from the cards.
  7. The leader then met with their boss to review the results of their cards and agree on a date to complete and review an A3 with targeted improvements.
  8. The leader used the A3 and DMAIC method to lay out their current state, identify the root causes of negative behaviors, form countermeasures, and create an improvement plan.
  9. The green card traits were also incorporated in the A3 and included in the improvement plan. The goal was to show how the leader was going to adopt the necessary habits to eliminate negative behaviors and increase the frequency of desirable ones when working with their direct reports.
  10. Upon completing the A3, the leader would hang it in their area where the direct reports could review it with them monthly to monitor progress.
  11. After three months, if there was a consensus that the leader successfully met the improvement goals for the red card and green card behaviors, we recognized and celebrated the success. If the goals were not achieved by the first A3 review, the monthly reviews continued until the expectations were met.
  12. The process didn’t stop there; we continuously repeated the cycle, and the leaders were tasked with improving additional behaviors. In Lean, we are tasked with striving for perfection so the continuous improvement journey never ends.

Incorporating this process into our standard work enabled us to reinforce positive behaviors in a systematically, disciplined, yet easily manageable fashion. We conducted this process at various levels of the organization with great results–leaders became more accountable, while significantly improving their communication and overall leadership skills.

The greatest challenge I’ve encountered during my experiences guiding Lean transformations is finding the best way to help people acquire and apply the necessary. Most people are inclined to resist change. Many of the top Lean leaders have stated that it’s much easier to behave your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of behaving. Red Card/Green Card supported the former. I’m convinced that this system provides you with the necessary ammunition to effectively develop leaders with the Lean mindset.

Additionally, it provides leaders with hands-on learning and experience in applying the A3 method to their work. This process will help transform thinking and create the growth mindset required to successfully and sustainably implement (or accelerate) Lean in your area and throughout your organization.