He Ruined Our Lean Efforts in Record Time

Lean Performance Pyramid: Part 5

(Read Part 4 Here)

When the ratchety Army colonel wreaked havoc on us with his check-ups on troop discipline, he presupposed it was management’s mission to enforce that discipline. The sub-text is people are not highly motivated and, in the absence of proper supervision, will be lazy. And even though the colonel was an executive in the armed forces, you probably recognize this type of management thinking.

People Are Actually Very Good

In contrast, the presupposition behind systems thinking is almost the exact opposite. Jack Gibb, a renowned expert on organizational teamwork stated it eloquently:
‘Deep down, most people know what is good for them, they do know what they want to do, and when “left alone” and given full responsibility for themselves, most people are highly goal-directed, ethical, creative, and productive. In fact, this has been demonstrated over and over in experimental programs with groups that were thought by many to be the least likely to take such responsibility: prisoners, mental patients, juvenile delinquents, and others with poor track records in life. ‘

As it relates to talent, lean thinking also presupposes that . . . ‘most people are competent, skilled, intelligent, and motivated enough to provide their own leadership, initiate their own actions, build their own morals, and run their own lives. That they know how to communicate, and that they enjoy self-chosen work and in fact will choose the most challenging and significant work available. What’s more, they will do it very well, for they like to do well. They accept challenge, tackle worthy tasks, and perform with quality. And finally, most people are curious and experimental. They enjoy learning new things and have wide interests, seeing “real” goals rather than artificial ones and studying avidly when they move into autogenic learning processes — when they are in charge of their own learning.’

Jack states ‘this reality is often covered up in the defensive climates that one can find in many workplaces. “Work” that is not worth doing is not worth doing well. Work that is arbitrarily assigned, meaningless, irrelevant, unrelated to inner goals, or given punitively is resisted by most people. Workers who do such work with understandably low motivation are then seen as lazy or incompetent, as “poor workers.”’

Build the System to Optimize the Talent

Lean thinking is designed specifically to insure that work “is worth doing” – the very essence of “respect for people.” By designing and operating systems that highlight problems, issues, abnormalities etc., to achieve organizational goals and then solve those problems right away to fix the system and grow problem solving capability, a lean thinking management insures the optimal conditions are in place to provide the talent with autogenic learning.

The foundational blocks of the Lean Performance Pyramid yield that exact scenario; systems knowledge and process focus, combined with visual discipline form a stable platform on which to highlight problems and solve them right away. Taking a cue from the colonel, management’s focus on these pillars serves to make lean thinking a reality. So even though the colonel’s high emphasis on discipline doesn’t fit our world, the foundational pillars of the Lean Performance Pyramid are exactly what management ought to spend its time working on. Optimizing the system around world class processes that incorporate the collective knowledge of the organization will inevitably yield the performance every leader dreams of leaving behind as a legacy.

Once those foundational blocks are present, the next organizational need is longevity – how to propagate managerial tacit knowledge into a sustained culture, year in and year out. Lean implementations in the West are full of stories where a lean knowledgeable executive built a learning organization, got promoted as a result, and was replaced by an old-school successor who returns everything back to its original state in record time.

A Critical Step: Cultivate Lean Thinking Into the Culture

Even though success cycles can keep a culture in place by doing more of what works, active cultivation into the managerial ranks will solidify the pillars. Vigorous mentoring is that active cultivation. And while the Western world views mentoring as a voluntary, “nice-to-do” type of activity, vigorous mentoring in lean systems centers around the very essence of the business, using creative problem solving to hit organizational goals. It’s just part of the everyday work; as much as 50% of the everyday work.

Best of all, it’s completely congruent with the 3 pillars. We’re here to hit targets by creatively overcoming obstacles – I’m in management because I’m good at overcoming obstacles and now, because I was coached to hone those skills, I am even better at teaching others how to be excellent problem solvers. As I identify promotable candidates based on their abilities to solve problems and teach others, I deepen the cultural foundation. That’s a self-propagating system that sets up the next foundational block.

Read Part 6 Here

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