6 Tips For a Successful Side-by-Side


What is a Side-by-Side?

In the event you are unsure on what I mean when I state side-by-side, I will provide my description of it. A side-by-side (SBS) is the act of meeting and sitting with someone in their workspace with the purpose of personally observing and learning from them as they perform their job function in front of you. I would consider a sub-par SBS to performed in a meeting room or over the phone, however there may be instances when this is the only option, point being that in-person, in the employee’s personal workplace, is best.

Importance of Side-by Sides

Side-by-sides are one of the most foundational elements for not just a Business and Process Improvement practitioner or consultant but, are incredibly important for any professional to do. If you want to learn your business and you want to do it the right way, get out there, take it from our former President Lincoln who stated ‘Get out of the office & circulate among the troops.’ This is the first piece of advice from Lincoln, in the book Lincoln on Leadership by Donald Phillips. In this chapter, he talks about the importance of it and the best way to learn and the best way to be a true leader is to get out and meet with the people, in his case it was the troops.

Not only are side-by-sides important to learn about your business, but it is one of the best ways to show your leadership capacity, humility, and will earn you respect as a leader for showing your face in the workplace amongst the people where value is created.

In your case, it may be your production workers, your manufacturing employees, your designers, your developers, your processors, etc. however, my main point is, side-by-sides are foundational for you to know your business/organization.

4 Benefits of SBSs

1) One of the best ways to really learn about the source of the issues you see in reports way upstream.

2) A way to personally experience the struggles your employees go through when the process or your system itself is the source of issues.

3) A great way to get employees to tell you solutions to problems that you may be struggling with to resolve.

4) The only way to determine if there is alignment with the design of the process versus what people are actually doing.

Hopefully, now that you are convinced on the importance of SBSs, let me tell you about 6 Tips that I recommend for you to maximize the value you get from them.

Tip #1: Don’t Multitask

I will make this clear, I personally am not a proponent of multitasking in the first place in any situation, however when you are doing a SBS it is even more important. You are there to learn and give the person you are sitting with your 100% undivided attention. If you are texting, speaking on the phone, or on your computer while you are supposedly trying to learn from the individual you are meeting with, it will completely obvious that you do not want to be there.

You will not need to say a thing; your body language will show this and red flags will go off and you will not get the information you are looking for from the employee.

If you really need to doing those other things, then it is not a good time to do a SBS, do one or the other. Also, it is flat out rude.

Side by Side Learning

Tip #2: Be Genuine

Being genuine for you, may be completely different for being genuine for me. However, the main point here is for you to be genuine for you. Be yourself, no need to put on a ‘professional’ demeanor or feel obligated that you should be composing yourself in a ‘certain way’ so that you maintain that social separation.

The person you are meeting with, is likely already feeling uncomfortable, no need to add to that discomfort.

Remember, your ultimately objective in a SBS is to learn and if the person you are sitting with is uncomfortable, the information they convey to you may be minimized.

Side by Side Genuine Relaxed

Tip #3: Be Respectful

Remember, like I stated before, this person you are meeting or sitting with is probably already uncomfortable and if you are disrespectful on top of that, your chances of getting valuable information from ‘the troop’ plummets. Me calling this out here as a tip, hopefully is not necessary and should be considered a basic life-rule in general. You should never be disrespectful to anyone, not just when you are trying to get something from that person. You most likely have some fancy title that ends in the word manager, analyst, specialist, engineer, vice-president, consultant, etc. however, that does not give you a right to carry yourself in an arrogant manner.

One more point, keep in mind that you are in a different person’s personal working space, for some people that space may be sacred and they are being ‘hospitable’ by letting you enter into that space.

Tip #4: Be Prepared

As a rule of thumb, you should simply be prepared for everything but when you have some activity with a very specific objective, don’t think that you can just pull it off effortlessly. It doesn’t matter how many SBSs you have done in your life, each one is different and the person you are sitting with is a different person. You know your objective, and since you have an objective, be sure you don’t leave that interaction and not have accomplished your objective. Come with some specific questions, come with something very specific you want the person you are sitting with to show you, and ensure that you understand what he/she responds with. Don’t just go through the motions so that you tell people that you completed a SBS, instead, enter with the intent of walking away and having learned something. Completely avoid the question such as ‘tell me about your process’, this is the equivalent to you meeting someone in a bar and asking that person to tell you about his life. That is a completely open question, this is not the situation when you want to be asking open-ended questions.

Tip #5: Take Notes

There are many people that believe they have the memory of an elephant, however when you are exposed to something new, you will likely not remember every detail.

There will be nuances that you may miss as you think back, you may not even remember the big points, and you will likely miss the important nuggets of information that could be clues into major opportunities.

You will see what I mean when you go back into your notes and you experience that ‘aha’ moment. When taking notes, do not take notes on your computer, it may be your personal preference to take notes on a computer but don’t do it.

The excuses I have heard from people who take notes on their computers during side-by-sides:

a) You don’t want to re-type your notes.

b) You can type faster than you can write.

c) You can’t read your own handwriting.

d) You want to be more digital.

However, this is one of those times when it is better to leave your computer at your desk and bring a basic notepad and pen. Your computer will be distracting and you may also give off the impression that you are multi-tasking again. You may get separation anxiety from your computer, but believe me you will be OK.

Side by Side

Tip #6: Relax

It is a perfectly normal emotion to feel a bit nervous when doing your SBS. However, keep in mind that the person you are meeting with is likely equally nervous, so take a breather and you will realize that once you are actually doing the SBS, it will feel conversational and it will be an experience that you will enjoy. In the process, you will connect with an employee and develop a relationship that could help you in the future. At the same time, you bring worth and value to the employee who will then be proud that he/she knew something they could teach you. Breathe and chillax!

Say Thanks

Basic reminder, but hopefully you already have good character, but at the end of SBS, please do not forget your manners and please do thank the person who took time to meet with you. Remember that this person’s production was likely impacted by meeting with you and for that reason alone, deserves your gratitude. Be sincere in your gratitude and I also suggest you provide a follow up email to that person and potentially his/her manager, it will only take 1-2 minutes but can go a long way.

Hopefully, these are simple reminders for you, but I believe we all occasionally need reminding of the basics. If you still have not performed a side-by-side, I highly recommend you use these tips when you do!

Follow Up Questions:

  • What are your thoughts?

  • Any additional tips you suggest?

  • Any bad experiences?

  • Have you ever had a major revelation that would not have happened had you not performed your side-by-side?

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