My latest post comes again from theleanedge.org (Michael Balle's site), you can take a look at other answers to this month's question which was:
“In a Lean environment we want to be able to see deviations as a starting point for improvement. This requires a transparency that in office environments is often seen as ‘increasing pressure on the workers’. What are your thoughts on this? What is a good way to find the causes of this mental model and how can we deal with it?”--
It’s funny (it’s really not), no matter where I go to teach or what industry I’m in, there is always several folks in the group that define Lean as “less employees are needed“; this is a joke of course, but is it? Art refers to it as something
, I’ve heard many different types of analogies in my tenure as a trainer, I always ask why do we have to call it anything? Is it necessary, could that be part of the program that labels get formed based on misunderstandings of intent? Who can really say! To me it boils down to an essence – failure of purpose. I think before any industry or functional area attempts to learn Lean Thinking, you must first gain the mutual trust and respect Pascal refers to. In some of my past posts and even in the classroom or at the gemba I refer to this as the “what-how-why” model. What am I doing, how will it be done, and why is it important? Whether you are in an office environment, manufacturing, engineering or accounting failure to properly create the “mental model” we desire is the culprit. I think an office environment tends to be less linear and often tagged as more difficult, but when you think about it I ask 3 questions-
1. Where you work are there people?
2. Where you work are there processes that create outputs?
3. Where you were do you have problems?
If you answer yes to these then I truly believe that purpose can be translated correctly where the misunderstanding diminishes and solid mental models can be created through mutual trust and respect and utilizing the power of your people’s ability to think. That can easily be solved by giving them the capability to seeing abnormality to standard and explaining why they need that.
I enjoyed Jeff’s example, sometimes they are the best way to tell a story about an experience so I will share a very unorthodox “lean type” example with you that was my very first lesson as a trainer outside of my manufacturing world at Toyota right after I left my Group Leader role. I was asked to come back to Toyota a few months later to join a project they were working on involving the local school system in the county. This project came about from hundreds of individuals calling in to our Human Resources department at TMMK asking where could they “learn” the skills that it takes to get through Toyota’s hiring process (some were not meeting the expectation and were frustrated they couldn’t get hired). So a long story short the TMMK plant spoke with the local Superintendent of the school system discussing with them that the competencies TMMK looked for were perhaps not being taught any where so either you had the experience, or initiative to learn or not (it was pass or fail). So they though, why not try to embed this in our schools to teach our young children these competencies employers are looking for. Toyota looked for 5 competencies in their hiring process they were:
2. Personal Initiative
3. Listening Skills
4. Problem Solving
5. Leadership qualities
There were several discussions about gaps in certain aspects of our education system (soft skills or what I call the people side). So a partnership formed with TMMK and the local county school system, they agreed to send 25 teachers to our quality circle training course. (Yep, I know what you are thinking- me too back then). At that time the course discussed Meeting Facilitation, PDCA, and A3. I will have to admit when I thought about teaching The Toyota Production system “thinking” in school systems, at that time in my career, I was like “what??? how will this work”?. I struggled with making the translation myself much less teach it, this was in 1999. After the Quality Circle class the teachers came out of there with a “deer in the headlight” look and very confused as to the “purpose” as to why they were asked to learn this. I’m summarizing for the sake of a 3 year story for me, but needless to say we (Toyota-TMMK) thought if we just thought the teachers how to problem solve and conduct a meeting, then these skills could be transferred to the students, thus eliminating our gap in the community in the future. Easy, huh? How do you think it went? Well various things were “assumed”, (that is what happens when failure of purpose is overlooked). Some of the people in the school system immediately thought Toyota was trying to come in and “run” the school, some assumed we were in there to recruit little future “Toyota’ites”, as I reflect back on it all its a classic example of going into someone’s environment trying to make change without an understanding of why it is important and linking it to what they do and engaging them in a way that a threatening tone doesn't evolve.
Recognizing that we had a gap in understanding we had to “re-group”, it didn't mean we gave up, we just went it from a different approach/angle, we watched, we learned, we listened, and understood their viewpoints before we discussed our own, we were trying to build mutual trust and respect relationship with a group of individuals that didn't see the gap in the same way we did. They had standards based on the state of KY they needed to meet and we couldn't come in as “non-educators” and tell them how to teach people ”soft skills”. This process of “nemawashi” – buy-in took several months. We decided to work with a smaller group and both sides ”listened and learned” simultaneously. This was a priceless experience for me as I reflect back 14 years ago to how it made me see this “lean translation process” differently.
In short, I worked with teachers for 3 years, we “enhanced” their curriculum embedding problem solving and people skills that engaged the students to think about their work, but just a bit differently than they were used to. We assessed their progress as we would folks going through the hiring process, it was amazing to see the parallel. I /We built relationships with the students, teachers, principals, and administrators in the KY Department of Education. As time went on progress was being seen, to Pascal’s point and Jeff’s I believe we were starting to have the capability to visualize aspects in the classroom based on student performance and learning, they were becoming measurable, the word started to spread quickly that TPS works in schools and our children were learning to their need similar to just in time, we were learning how to differentiate instruction based on student differences (leveling) versus teach to a norm all based on these competencies Toyota looked for in employees noted above. It was coming together and to our surprise we got a million dollar federal grant (with the help of Toyota) to spread this activity across the state. It was a 3 year grant. So we were effecting the classroom, teaching styles, school and central office processes- similar to a parallel of roles cascading in an organization meeting a customer need. We introduced Hoshin thinking and cascaded that downward, it was amazing to be a part of it and watch the light bulbs come on because we figured out a way to come into a world that was so much different than manufacturing but translate it so people understood the purpose of children learning to think differently. It had nothing to do with Toyota at this point, we were enhancing the knowledge of children regardless of what they were interested in being in life. This was huge!
By the end of the 3 years as I traveled across the state of KY from grades 1-12 and even secondary schools, I had embedded myself into the school “culture” that many educators didn’t know that I wasn’t a teacher, that was when I knew I was part of the team and I had become a servant leader to them with my purpose being to engage them by listening, gaining buy-in, understanding their processes, and determining how to teach in a way that fostered development and learning for the greater good of our customer , which was the student, not Toyota’s hiring process (that was a potential outcome but not our first purpose now). Toyota was giving back to the community and state and to this day I am still friends with several educators I trained to assist me in this program that was called QUEST – (Quest for Useful Employment Skills for Tomorrow). This program later evolved to the Center for Quality People and Organizations (CQPO) where I worked with Mike Hoseus, the executive director today, where we further developed programs that enhanced the teachers ability to translate people or soft skills, problem solving and teamwork to our students giving them a greater chance to perform in our ever-changing world today, to this day it still is in existence in certain schools and some teachers went down as pioneers of change, I was blessed to be a part of something so evolutionary, and to think that in the beginning it was a very rough road with major resistance.
When I saw this question posted this past week, it took me back to this time because in its own way it describes the exact thing that we all deal with, and if you pause, think, listen, and explain the “what-how-and why” we are embracing change, then I believe your odds are much better for success when your people understand purpose. My time in this program proved to me that Lean thinking can be translated in an area I personally thought (at the time) was going to be virtually impossible. Again, Toyota proved to me that they taught me how to do things I didn’t think I was capable of, this has been my MO since I left- its been a never ending learning curve to answer this question above. I will always continue to “listen, lead and learn”, and always gain buy-in and trust, its amazing what you can accomplish! I will never forget it to say the least.
I hope this wasn't too far off base in answering the question, to me it translates if you can answer the 3 questions above, you just have to focus on the people side. I always say the “people side” of lean will always trump the “tool side”, people and fostering their development and understanding will create long term sustainability and growth. Focus on your people folks! As Sakichi Toyoda states in the Toyota Way 2001 internal book - “People are the most important asset in your organization and they are the determinant of the rise and fall of it”. So remove the pressure buy explaining why your change or initiative is important no matter what you call it. I promise you it will work!