I’ve been really bad about blogging lately. Please forgive me. I’ve been busy learning about leadership, and how leaders lead in a Lean company. There have been some big ah-ha moments for me, but perhaps the biggest idea to cross my desk came from a student in a class I am participating in.
Brad Power, while conducting research at the Lean Enterprise Institute wrote Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develops their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong. There is a saying at Toyota that “no problem is a problem.” And there is a culture of no blame. Managers are told “be hard on the process, but soft on the operators.” From this single paragraph from a single article, one member of my class made a giant leap in her journey to become a Lean Leader.
Of her own initiative, she began an email chain with her company’s Lean Manager and their Lean Sensei. She placed the topic on the table admitting what she believed to be the current condition and asked to move the issue into general discussion with her class: “I think we do have a broad culture of blame because we don’t know what else to do. How do you be hard on the process without being hard on the people? Perhaps we can make time to discuss as a group.”
The culture of blame can be, and usually is, dangerous for any organization. Once you fall into the blame game culturally, it requires an incredible amount of effort to move away from it. Just like everything we do in a Lean world, it requires a top-down bottom-up effort to be successful.
Even when executive management is behind the effort to drive blame out, this can be tough. You need to start asking WHY instead of WHO. “Why did the process fail to produce the desired outcomes”, not “who’s fault was it”.
It also requires an environment that is conductive and oriented towards problem solving. Without a desire to actually problem solve you are almost always looking (whether you know it or not) for the easy way out. You’ve got to be a strong enough organization to want to solve problems so that the employees can be successful.
Looking back on the string of emails, the student in this leadership class took one more big step towards being that Lean Leader. Reflecting back on the discussion in the emails (even before this topic came up in class), she stated “This sounds to me like something I can do and spread the word. It’s going to be a tough sell because our culture is to document so much to CYA! If it’s going to change, it might as well start with me.”
And that is where I shall leave it with each of you. If you are going to stand up and be a leader and embrace good continuous change, it has to start somewhere. It must start with you.