Ed Toner

Blog: Process Improvement Texas Style

There are few things that can really make me laugh. One of those things has gotten me in trouble more times than I want to count…… teasing my significant other, Colleen.  Now I am going to pick on her in writing which is really going to be a risk. 

As some of you know, Colleen is from Connecticut (and Maine) while I am from Texas.  I am very structured and logically minded, and let’s just say that she is not.  I should mention up front in this story that I rely on Colleen’s merciful, even keel disposition as well as her “Texas-size” sense of humor.

During a recent visit to Austin, we decided to tour the Texas State Capitol.  Colleen had never been, and the massively historic building was within walking distance of our hotel.  Once inside the foyer, we found that we had to go through a metal detector and x-ray machine.  It was much like what we all experience in the airport, but this was a different atmosphere.  In this line everyone was patient and accommodating.  Even the state troopers were smiling and helpful--- so helpful, that when Colleen set off the alarm with a metal bracelet she was wearing, a nearby trooper thoughtfully advised her (in a big Texas drawl) that she could prevent that in the future by simply putting her other arm on top of the bracelet. 

Texas State Capitol

He was exactly what you would imagine a trooper to be like, very much no nonsense except that he was smiling and reminded you more of your grandfather than the stern type that pulls you over for a traffic ticket.  

To her own disadvantage, Colleen recalled, “I know, I have been told that before”.

He replied first with a wink in my direction, then to her, “Well Darling, you need some practice so that you will remember and make this a lot easier on everyone.” 

I could not help but laugh which he took as the cue of encouragement.  Pointing back towards the detector that she had just walked through, in his polite Texas accent he asked the line to step back and, “let her try it again.” 

She looked at me then realizing I was actually on his side. So on his cue, with her opposite arm crossed over her bracelet arm this time, she walked back through the gate.  No alarm sounded.  It worked just as he had said it would.   

He beamed at her, “Now wasn’t that easier?” 

Colleen admitted, “It was”, and he grinned back to let her know he was just having fun.  

At first it seemed the exercise might just be at Colleen’s expense, but in fact there was a real process improvement lesson gained.  Colleen became empowered because she learned a better method, one which will improve her experience in similar situations in the future.

Often in our work we are told (or we know) there is a better, faster way, but because we have always followed the same process, we resist change.  Maybe we simply do not want to challenge the status quo due to the fact that we are afraid of being wrong.  Too often we do not even try the recommended change before we dismiss it.  Colleen reminded me that at times it can be challenging to try a new approach, and the importance of listening to input from the experts.  The takeaway I want for my team is this: Be willing to innovate, take risks and improve the way it has always been done, and most important, do not be afraid to be wrong.

Now that I am thinking about it a little more, maybe the trooper saw Colleen’s Aggie shirt and decided on some payback….…it was Austin.

As always, thank you for all you do for the citizens of Nebraska.


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