Depths of ‘Transformation’

butterflyI’ve been meaning to write this post for 2 years! It feels good to finally ‘get it out of my head’ and onto the page.

It’s about that lovely ‘Transformation’ word.

Before I go on, I’ll repeat a definition from an earlier post:

Transformation: In an organisational context, a process of profound and radical change that orients an organisation in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness….transformation implies a basic change of character and little or no resemblance with the past configuration or structure.” (businessdictionary.com)

To repeat the key phrase: An entirely different level of effectiveness! …and, just in case you missed it, the word is effectiveness, not efficiency.

I’m going to outline 3 levels of (supposed) transformation and I’ll do this by borrowing the bones of an idea from Mike Rother’s excellent ‘Toyota Kata’ book and extend it with a large dose of my own ‘poetic license’.

Level 1 Transformation: ‘On the surface’

iceburgSo, picture the scene: It’s the late 1970s. Your organisation desperately wants to improve and, on looking around for someone achieving brilliant results, you spot the awesome Toyota (or such like1).

You go on a Toyota factory visit. You are amazed at what you see and excitedly ask them how they do it.

You easily observe (‘on the surface’) lots of obvious methods and tools…and so you grab evidence of how these are carried out – e.g. some template forms, and the instructions that go with them. You also take lots of pictures of their (visual management) walls to show all this working in situ.

You run back home, hand out the methods and tools and mandate that, from now on, this is what we are doing.

toolboxYou helpfully provide training and (so called) ‘coaching’…and you put in place ‘governance’ to ensure it’s working. You roll it all up together and you give it a funky title…like your Quality Toolbox. Nice.

So what happens?

Well, yep, those tools and methods sure are ‘shiny new’ and easily applied. There’s an initial buzz, probably because of senior management focus…and pressure to prove the comedy ‘Return on Investment’ (ROI) calculation that had to be set out in the short-term thinking ‘will you pay for our factory trip?’ business case.

But the initial effects fall away. Anything achieved was a one-off, or of limited and low level benefit. The changes aren’t sustained – with a slide back to the old state. People start to misuse the tools and methods, and do much damage rather than good. There is a brief and ugly fight with the ‘methods and tools’ compliance police but disillusionment sets in and the early good work becomes discredited and abandoned (just like the last silver bullet…and the one before that…)

Timely reminder: “A fool with a tool is still a fool” (Grady Booch)

Note: This ‘on the surface’ transformation attempt has been likened to organisations going over to Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s and coming home to fanatically ‘do Total Quality Management’ (TQM)…and then quietly dropping it a few years later. Sure, some organisations sustained it but most didn’t.

Level 2 Transformation: ‘Under the skin’

skinSo it’s now the 1990s. The methods and tools that came out of the initial Toyota factory visit weren’t sustained but the pressure is still on (and mounting) to transform your organisation…and your management can’t help noticing that Toyota are still doing amazing!

“Perhaps we didn’t look hard enough or close enough or long enough…perhaps we should go back and have a look ‘under the skin’.”

…and so you go for another factory visit (once you’ve been given permission following another well written story business case 🙂 ).

This time you take real care – studying ‘at the gemba’ for weeks, asking questions, watching activities, understanding the nature of changes being made to the system before you.

“Eureka! There’s something underneath those methods and tools! We can see that there’s an underlying logic that we missed last time round…oooh, we could codify them into a set of principles!

And here’s basically what you arrive at:

0. Everything should belong to, or support, a value stream (a horizontal flow from customer need, through to its satisfaction)

…and for each value stream we should:

1. Specify value, where this is through the eyes of the customer; then

2. Identify all the actions performed within the value stream, and expose and remove the obvious waste; then

3. Create flow by understanding and removing the barriers; then

4. Establish pull by producing only what is needed, when requested; and finally

5. The ‘golden nugget’: we should continually strive for perfection because this is a never-ending journey

Wow, that was profound – your factory tour team now need to give it a name!

And so, after a fun focus group, a young member of your team called John2 shouts out “It needs less of everything to create a given amount of value, so let’s call it ‘Lean’.”

Whoop, whoop, he’s only gone and cracked it!

You run back home to tell everyone about the wonders of ‘Lean’. You hand out books, provide training courses, coaching and mentoring and you slot all those wonderful tools and methods nicely into their place…neat…this is going to be great!

So what happens?

Well, everyone absolutely LOVES the principles. They make sooo much sense. They particularly liked playing with Lego in the training sessions to demo flow, pull, kanban and ‘stop the line’ thinking.

But after a while (and some short-term gains) you realise that there’s a huge tension building. No one can make those darn principles work because they continually clash with existing management practises.

Your senior management employ a gaggle of so-called Lean coaches to try to change the people at the bottom whilst they carry on at the top as before!

Your ‘Lean Office’ has become an island of coaches doing great work with the people but unable to turn the tide. Coaching conversations end with responses like:

“Yes, I can see that would be the right thing to do for the value stream…but that’s not what my objectives, performance rating and bonus is based on…or what my manager above me would support…so I’ll stick to soul-destroying fighting within my silo. Sorry about that 😦

This culminates in huge frustration; a revolving door of broken coaches; and many a good employee finding a better organisation to work for. If you ran an employee survey at this point, the results would make for ugly reading – you’ve created a complete divide between worker reality and management ‘cloud cuckoo land’.

Oh, and that lean word? Well it became capitalised! LEAN…as if it were a thing. You’ve all forgotten that it was just a label thought up by John in a focus group merely to describe what the factory visit team saw.

Pause for reflection: Taiichi Ohno is considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS) but he didn’t want it to be written down3 (codified) because he wanted it to remain dynamic.

And as for that name:“Ohno did not call his innovation ‘lean’ – he didn’t want to call it anything. He could, perhaps foresee the folly of a label.” (John Seddon)

Caution: …and if you did this ‘under the skin’ (supposed) transformation within a service organisation, you may find (if you properly stood back to look at it!) that you’d totally f@ck$d it up!

Credit: The ‘Level 2’ principles jotted down above are the core of the 1996 book ‘Lean Thinking’ by Womack and Jones….which they wrote following their research in Japan. They explicitly set out 5 principles, with a foundational one implied (hence why I’ve labelled it as ‘principle nought’).

Level 3 Transformation: ‘In the DNA’

dna…and so to the 2000s. The pressure to change your organisation is relentless – the corporate world is ‘suffering’ from seemingly constant technological disruption…but Toyota continues to be somehow different.

You pluck up the courage and ask for a sabbatical for 6 months – you want to find the meaning of life…well, perhaps not that deep…but you sure as hell want to know what Toyota have got that you don’t…and to work this out, you are going to have to go in deep – to their DNA.

Toyota are happy to see you again. But, rather than repeating what you did on the last two trips, you come straight out with it:

“Okay, you’ve shown me your tools and methods…you’ve let me uncover your principles…and I know that these aren’t the answer! What are you hiding from me?! Come on, I get it, it’s a competitive world out there but PLEASE let me in on your secret.”

The Toyota managers are perplexed. They don’t know what else they can do. They are adamant that they aren’t hiding anything from you.

…and so, rather than go straight back home empty handed, you ask if you can work with Toyota to experience what day-to-day work is actually like. They humbly agree to your request.

And six months later your mind has been totally blown!

You really get it….no, REALLY GET IT!

You couldn’t see the wood for the trees but now it’s as obvious as can be.

It’s all about the environment created by management’s actions, which come from their beliefs and behaviours about human beings: about society, about customers…and, most profoundly, about employees.

This is invisible on a factory visit! But it’s still there. It’s simply ‘in the DNA’.

Sure, you could provide a list of attributes as to what this looks like…but management can’t just do them, they have to believe in them – in fact, ‘be’ them!

Further, there’s nothing to be ‘implemented’ because it can’t be!

Everything flows from management’s beliefs and behaviours: It’s from these that Toyota creates new principles, methods and tools all the time…and throws out old ones that are no longer appropriate. Their systems thinking and human thinking is solid and profound, whilst their method is dynamic and agile.

…and the realisation sinks in: No wonder Toyota are happy to open their door to anyone. The thing that makes them great can’t be copied. It has to be lived and breathed…and nurtured from the shop floor all the way up. Oh sh1t!

…and so to your new headache: you totally ‘get it’ but how on earth do you change your organisational system – now that is THE nut to crack. That would be transformational!

Reflection time:

So ‘On the surface’, ‘Under the skin’ or ‘In the DNA’: What level of transformation are you playing at?

…if you are at level 1 or 2 then it’s not actually transformation.

…if you are truly at level 3, then here’s the final mind blowing bit – it is self-sustaining.


To close: I have been asking myself a HUGE question for a fair while now: Can management’s beliefs and behaviours change within a large floating (i.e. short-term thinking) shareholder owned organisation.  I’m nearly there with writing down my thoughts. Watch this space…

Footnotes:

1. Just Toyota? I use Toyota in this story since everyone knows who they are…and visits to their factories is precisely what happened regularly over the last several decades. But it isn’t just Toyota.

Your own ‘Toyota’ factory visit could be to another great organisation…and it needn’t be a factory making products – it could be a service organisation. Handelsbanken would be a great financial services example.

Though beware, there aren’t that many ‘true Toyotas’ out there. And perhaps none that have sustained it for so long.

2. ‘John’: He’s even called John in the true story – John Krafcik, a young researcher on Womack’s MIT research team…and those were his words back in 1987 (as recalled by Womack) to give birth to the Lean label.

3. Writing it down: Ohno finally relented when he retired in 1978 and wrote a book on TPS.

4. Clarification: I think a great deal of Lean Thinking, but not a lot about ‘LEAN’ – the implementation movement. I respect Womack and Jones, and their writings…but I note that my favourite Womack book is ‘Gemba Walks’ written about a decade after ‘Lean Thinking’ in which he humbly reflects that it was about far more than the tools and the principles. It was really about the management system (or, in my words, the DNA).

Advertisements

Crossing the Divide

Picture1Are you interested in crossing that divide?

Okay, listen up 🙂 …this post is my attempt at one of those important bringing-it-all-together ones that provide a big message (see – look at the picture!)…which means that it’s a bit longer than normal because it needs to be.

I thought about breaking it into pieces and publishing bit-by-bit but this would make it longer (each bit needing a top and a tail) and hard to mentally put back together.

So I’ve decided to keep it together and let you, the reader, decide how you consume it. You might like to read it in one; or dip in and out of it during your day; or even set yourself an alert to finish it the next day…so (as Cilla Black used to say) “the choice is yours”. Here goes…

Mike Rother wrote what I believe to be, a very important book (Toyota Kata) about how organisations can improve, and what thinking is stopping them.

In particular, Chapter 9 of the book deals with ‘Developing Improvement Kata [pattern] behaviour in your organisation’. I thought it worthwhile posting a summary of his excellent advice derived from his research….

…and I’ll start with a highly relevant quote:

“Do not create a ‘Lean’ department or group and relegate responsibility for developing improvement behaviours to it.

Such a parallel staff group will be powerless to effect change, and this approach has been proven ineffective in abundance.

Use of this tactic often indicates delegation of responsibility and lack of commitment at the senior level.” (Mike Rother)

Many an organisation has gone down the ‘Lean department’ (or some such label) route…so, given this fact, here’s what Rother goes on to say, combined with my own supporting narrative and thought:


1. Be clear on what we are trying to achieve

If you really want to cross that divide then the challenge that we should be setting ourselves is learning a new way of thinking and acting such that we:

  • get the ‘improvement behaviour’ habit into the organisation; and then
  • spread it across the organisation so that it is used by everyone, at every process, every day.

And to make it even more ‘black and white’: the challenge is NOT about implementing techniques, practices or principles on top of our existing way of managing.

It means changing how we manage. This involves a significant effort and far reaching change (particularly in respect of leadership).


2. What do we know about this challenge?

  • Toyota (from the foundational work of Taiichi Ohno) is considered the world leader in working towards this challenge…they’ve been working towards it for 60+ years;
    • We can study and learn, but should not merely copy, from them;
  • The start, and ever-continuing path, is to strive to understand the reality of your own situation, and experimenting. This is where we actually learn;
  • No one can provide you with an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution to the challenge:
    • There isn’t likely to be an approach that perfectly fits for all;
    • It is in the studying and experimenting that we gain wisdom;
    • ‘Copying’ will leave us flailing around, unknowingly blind;
    • Our path should continually be uncertain up until each ‘next step’ reveals itself to us.

Wow, so that’s quite a challenge then! Here are some words of encouragement from Rother on this:

“There is now a growing community of organisations that are working on this, whose senior leaders recognise that Toyota’s approach is more about working to change people’s behaviour patterns than about implementing techniques, practises, or principles.”


3. What won’t work?

If we wish to spread a new (improvement) behaviour pattern across an organisation then the following tactics will not be effective:

Tactic a) Classroom training:

Classroom training (even if it incorporates exercises and simulations) will not change people’s behaviours. If a person ‘goes back’ into their role after attending training and their environment remains the same, then expect minimal change from them.

“Intellectual knowledge alone generally does not lead to change in behaviour, habits or culture. Ask any smoker.”

Rother makes the useful contrast of the use of the ‘training’ word within sport:

“The concept of training in sports is quite different from what ‘training’ has come to mean in our companies. In sport it means repeatedly practicing an actual activity under the guidance of a coach. That kind of training, if applied as part of an overall strategy to develop new behaviour patterns is effective for changing behaviours.”

Classroom training (and, even better, education) has a role but this is probably limited to ‘awareness’….and even that tends to fade quickly if it is not soon followed by hands-on practising with an appropriate coach.

Tactic b) Having consultants do it ‘to people’ via projects and workshops:

Projects and workshops do not equal continuous improvement. This is merely ‘point’ improvement that will likely cease and even slip backwards once the consultant (or ‘Black Belt’) has moved on to the next area of focus.

Real continuous improvement means improving all processes every day.

Traditional thinking sees improvement as an add-on (via the likes of Lean Six Sigma projects) to daily management. Toyota/ (actual) Lean/ Systems thinking (pick your label!) is where normal daily management equals process improvement i.e. they are one and the same thing.

To achieve this isn’t about bringing experts in to manage you through projects; it is to understand how to change your management system so that people are constantly improving their processes themselves. Sure, competent coaches can help leaders through this, but they cannot ‘do it for them.’

And to be clear: it is the senior leaders that first need coaching, this can’t be delegated downwards.

“If the top does not change behaviour and lead, then the organisation will not change either.”

Tactic c) Setting objectives, metrics and incentives to bring about the desired change:

There is no combination of these things that will generate improvement behaviour and alter an organisation’s culture. In fact, much of this is the problem.

If you don’t get this HUGE constraint then here are a few posts already published that scratch the surface* as to why: D.U.M.B., The Spice of Life, and The Chasm

(* you are unlikely to fully ‘get’ the significance from simple rational explanations, but these might make you curious to explore further)

Tactic d) Reorganising:

Shuffling the organisational structure with the aim (hope) of stimulating improvement will not work. Nothing has fundamentally changed.

“As tempting as it sometimes seems, you cannot reorganise your way to continuous improvement and adaptiveness. What is decisive is not the form of your organisation, but how people act and react.”


4. How do we change?

So, if all those things don’t work then, before we jump on some other ideas, perhaps we need to remind ourselves about us (human beings) and how we function.

The science of psychology is clear that we learn habits (i.e. behaviours that occur unconsciously and become almost involuntary to us) by repeated practice and gaining periodic fulfilment from this. This builds new and ever strengthening mental circuits (neural pathways).

Put simply: we learn by doing.

We need to start by realising that what we do now is mostly habitual and therefore the only way to alter this is by personally and repeatedly practising the desired (improvement pattern) behaviours in our actual daily work.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

“To know and not to do is not yet to know.” (Zen saying)

Further, a coach can only properly understand a person’s true thinking and learning by observing them in their daily work.

In summary, we need to:

  • practise using actual situations in actual work processes;
  • combine training with doing, such that the coach can see in real time where the learner is at and can introduce appropriate adjustments; and
  • use the capability of the actual process as the measure of effectiveness of the coaching/ learning.

5. Where to start?

So, bearing in mind what is said above (i.e. about needing to learn for yourselves), what follows is merely about helping you do this…and not any ‘holy grail’. If there is one then it is still up to you to find it!

An experienced coach:

“Coaches should be in a position to evaluate what their students are doing and give good advice…in other words, coaches should be experienced….

…If a coach or leader does not know from personal experience how to grasp the current condition at a process, establish an appropriate challenge [towards customer purpose] and then work step by step [experiment] towards it, then she is simply not in a position to lead and teach others. All she will be able to say in response to a student’s proposals is ‘Okay’ or ‘Good job’ which is not coaching or teaching.

The catch-22 is that at the outset there are not enough people in the organisation who have enough experience with the improvement kata [pattern] to function as coaches…

…it will be imperative to develop at least a few coaches as early as possible.” (See establishing an Advance Group below)

A word of warning: Many people assume a coaching role, often without realising that they are doing so. Such a presumption seems to be something that anyone hierarchically ‘senior’ to you considers to be their right. As in “Now listen up minion, I am now going to coach you – you lucky thing!*”

(* I had a rant about this in my earlier post on ‘people and relationships’ …but I’m okay now 🙂 )

So: Before any of us assert any supposed coaching privileges, I think we should humbly reflect that:

“The beginner is entitled to a master for a teacher. A hack can do incredible damage.” (Deming)

Who practises first?

The improvement pattern is for everyone in the organisation……but it needs to start somewhere first.

“Managers and leaders at the middle and lower levels of the organisation are the people who will ultimately coach the change to the improvement kata [pattern], yet they will generally and understandably not set out in such a new direction on their own. They will wait and see, based on the actions (not the words) of senior management, what truly is the priority and what really is going to happen.”

The point being that, if the organisation wants to effect a change in culture (which is what is actually needed to make improvement part of daily management) then it requires the senior managers to go first.

This statement needs some important clarifications:

  • It isn’t saying that senior leadership need to stand up at annual road-shows or hand out some new guru-book and merely state that they are now adopting some shiny new thing. This will change nothing. Far better would be NOT to shout about it and just ‘do it’ (the changed behaviours)…the people will notice and follow for themselves;
  • It isn’t saying that all senior leaders need to master all there is to know before anyone else can become involved. But what is needed is a meaningful desire for key (influential) members of the senior team to want to learn and change such that their people believe this;
  • It isn’t saying that there aren’t and won’t be a rump of middle and lower managers who are forward thinking active participants. They exist now and are already struggling against the current – they will surge ahead when leaders turn the tide;
  • It isn’t saying that the rest of the people won’t want the change: the underlying improvement behaviours provide people with what they want (a safe, secure and stimulating environment). It is just that they have understandably adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ habit given their current position on a hierarchical ladder and the controls imposed upon them.

Establishing an Advance Group

The first thing to notice from this sub-title is that it is NOT suggesting that:

  • we should attempt to change the whole organisation at once; or that
  • we should set up some central specialist group (as in the first quote in this post)

Instead, it is suggesting that we:

  • find a suitable1 senior executive to lead (not merely sponsor!2);
  • select/ appoint an experienced coach;
  • select a specific value-adding business system3 to start with;
  • form a suitable1 group of managers (currently working in the system, not outside it);
  • provide initial ‘awareness’ education;
  • ‘go to the Gemba’ and study4 to:
    • gain knowledge about purpose, demand, capability, and flow; and then
    • derive wisdom about the system conditions and management thinking that make all this so;
  • perform a series of improvement cycles (experimenting and learning);
  • reflect on learnings about our processes, our people and our organisation…
    • …deriving feelings of success and leading to a new mindset: building a capability to habitually follow the improvement routine in their daily management;
    • …and thereby crafting a group of newly experienced managers within the organisation who can go on to coach others as and when other business systems wish to pull their help.

(for explanatory notes for superscripts 1 – 4, see bottom of post)

Caution: Don’t put a timescale on the above – it can’t be put into an ‘on time/budget/scope’ project straight jacket. The combination of business system, team and organisational environment is infinitely varied…it will take what it takes for them to perform and learn. The learning will emerge.

A number of things should be achieved from this:

  • meaningful understanding and improvement of the selected business system’s capability;
  • highly engaged people who feel valued, involved and newly fulfilled;
  • a desire to continue with, and mature the improvement cycles (i.e. a recognition that it is a never-ending journey);
  • interest from elsewhere in the organisation as they become aware of, develop curiosity and go see for themselves; and
  • A desire to ‘roll in’5 the change to their own business system.

A caveat – The big barrier:

Every system sits within (and therefore is a component of) a larger system! This will affect what can be done.

If you select a specific value-adding business system, it sits within the larger organisational system;

If you move up the ‘food chain’ to the organisational system, it potentially sits within a larger ‘parent organisation’ system

….and so on.

This is a fact of life. When studying a system it is as important (and often more so) to study the bigger system that it sits within as studying its own component parts.

It is this fact “that so often brings an expression similar to that of the Sheriff Brody in the film ‘Jaws’ when he turns from the shark and says ‘we need a bigger boat’. Indeed we do!” (Gordon Housworth, ICG blog)

If the bigger system commands down to yours (such as that you must use cascaded personal objectives, targets, contingent rewards and competitive awards) and your learning (through study and experimentation) concludes that this negatively affects your chosen business system then you need to move upstairs and work on that bigger system.

You might respond “But how can we move upstairs? They don’t want to change!”. Well, through your studying and experimentation, you now have real knowledge rather than opinions – you have a far better starting point!


…and there you have it: A summary of Mike Rother’s excellent chapter mixed with John Seddon’s thinking (along with my additional narrative) on how we might move towards a true ‘culture of improvement’.

There is no silver bullet, just good people studying their system and facilitating valuable interventions.

Notes: All quotes used above are from Mike Rother unless otherwise stated.

  1. Suitable: A person with: an open mind, a willingness to question assumptions/ conventional wisdom, and humility; a desire and aptitude for self-development, development of others and for continual improvement (derived from Liker’s book – The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership)
  2. On leading: “Being a…Sponsor is like being the Queen: you turn up to launch a ship, smash the champagne, wave goodbye and welcome it back to port six months later. This attitude is totally inappropriate for leading…in our business environment. We need ownership that is one of passion and continual involvement…” (Eddie Obeng)
  1. The business system selected needs to be a horizontal value stream (for the customer) rather than a vertical silo (organisational function) and needs to be within the remit of the senior executive.
  1. Study: Where my post is referring to Seddon’s ‘Check’ model
  1. Roll in: The opposite of roll out – pulling, instead of pushing. Please see Rolling, rolling, rolling… for an explanation of the difference.

Farmers and Facilitation

FarmerI’ve been meaning to write a post about promotion (into, and through the hierarchy of management) for a while now…it’s taken me a bit to frame it. Here’s ‘part 1’:

Before considering promotion we should ask ourselves…

What is the work of management?

A great deal has been written on this question. Womack’s essay ‘The work of management’ gives us an all too familiar view as to what management actually means in practice:

“Most managers I observe spend most of their time with incidental work – box ticking, meetings that reach no actionable conclusions, report writing, personnel reviews that don’t develop personnel, etc. And in the time left over they do rework. By the latter I mean the fire fighting to get things back on course as processes malfunction. Most managers seem to believe that this is their ‘real’ work and their highest value to their organisation.”

Is this what we actually want our managers to be doing? Does this create value or is it just about survival?

Who do we hire/ promote into management?

In another of his essays, ‘Fewer Heroes, More Farmers’, Womack explains that when he asked a Command & Control CEO at a very large American Corporation about his management hiring/ promotion logic he got the following in reply: “I search for heroic leaders to galvanize my business units. I give them metrics to meet quickly. When they meet them they are richly rewarded. When they don’t, I find new leaders.”

Womack went on to ask this CEO, given the very high level of turnover of his business unit heads, “why does your company need so many heroes? Why don’t your businesses consistently perform at a high level so that no new leaders are needed? And why do even your apparently successful leaders keep moving on?”

He got the usual answers in reply: “business is tough, leadership is the critical scarce resource, and that a lot of turnover indicates a dynamic management culture.”

…and yet such businesses preside over:

  • A confusion as to its purpose (a mismatch between what is stated and reality);
  • The constant rolling out of the latest ‘revitalising’ programme from the top;
  • Poorly performing processes, that tend to get worse instead of better;
  • Dispirited people operating these broken processes at every level of the organisation; with
  • Mini-heroes everywhere devising workarounds.

Rather than heroes, Womack suggests that we need farmers whose role is to steadily tend every important process, continually asking three simple questions:

  1. Is the business purpose of the process [in the eyes of the customer] correctly defined? [and Seddon would add ‘is its capability measured?’]
  2. Is action steadily being taken to create value, flow and pull in every step of the process while taking out waste?
  3. Are all of the people touching the process actively engaged in making it better?

“This is the gemba mentality of the farmer who, year after year, plows a straight furrow, mends the fence and obsesses about the weather, even as the heroic pioneer or hunter who originally cleared the land moves on.

Why do we have so many heroes and so few farmers, and such poor results in most of our organisations? Because we’re blind to the simple fact that business heroes usually fail to transform businesses. They create short-term improvement, at least on the official metrics. But these gains either aren’t real or they can’t be sustained because no farmers are put in place to tend the fields. Wisely, these heroes move on before this becomes apparent.

Meanwhile, we are equally blind to the critical contribution of the farmers who should be our heroes. These are the folks who provide the steady-paced continuity at the core of every lean enterprise”.

Now, after reading the above back to myself, I can feel a back lash from the current cool management buzz of ‘everything today is about innovation!’…as in “but the world is ever changing Steve! We can’t just rely on Continuous Improvement – we’ve got to constantly reinvent ourselves or else we will get left behind!”

I agree! What is written above isn’t confined to making small step changes and doesn’t constrain discontinuous (breakthrough) improvements. Womack’s 3 questions equally apply for the seeds of innovation to blossom within a healthy working environment.

Conversely, hero management with financial targets and contingent rewards can seriously damage the chances of true and meaningful innovation from happening. (Both Alfie Kohn and Dan Pink explain the research showing the harm that incentives do to innovation).

If your purpose is clear and everyone is working together towards it (not towards individual targets) then you will likely alternate between many small steps and infrequent leaps as new ideas and technologies come along and existing ones are steadily improved.

Who should we want as our managers?

“The greatness in people comes out only when they are led by great leaders” (Akio Toyoda)

Liker, in his excellent book ‘The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership’, explains Toyota’s leadership development model. He explains it in four building blocks:

(Note: whilst I am mixing the words ‘leader’ and ‘manager’, there is a big difference between them. Please reflect on Confusion over two words)

First, to be considered for leadership, a person has to be committed to self-development i.e. to constantly seek to improve themselves and their skills. This is enabled and assessed by those ahead1 of them providing suitable challenges, space and coaching to allow self-development to occur.

Clarification: You may have years of experience and/or rolls of qualifications…but this doesn’t demonstrate that you have, or can, self-develop:

“What is often mistaken for 20 years’ experience is just 1 year’s experience repeated 20 times” (Source unknown)

Not everyone will be up for self-development2. Clearly, Toyota are looking for those who can and want to grow. This is in stark contrast to organisations that want merely to bring in people from outside to ‘implement here what they have done to people elsewhere’ (but now appear to be running away from this!)

Second: Once a person has suitably demonstrated their ability and desire to self develop, then they need to show the development of others. To be clear: this does not mean merely coaching (supposedly) star performers or favourites (the ‘chosen few’)…it means developing everyone. In fact, your ability to develop someone where this appears challenging* is a sure sign of your development capabilities. Liker uses the Toyota quote that “the best measure of a leader’s success is what is accomplished by those they trained3.” It’s not about what you can do; it’s about what they can now do because of you (even though they may not comprehend this link).

(*The greatest case study I know of this is what Toyota achieved at NUMMI with ex-GM employees who were considered the worst of the worst. They re-hired them and turned them into the best. The problem wasn’t a shortage of talent, as we are so often led to believe, but an inability to engage and develop the talents lying dormant within people).

Third: So you are a self-developer and can develop others. It now becomes about your ability to enable daily improvement – facilitating groups of people through constant improvement: being a farmer as described above.

The focus is not on attempting to force improvement (top down) but in enabling, encouraging and coaching improvement from the bottom up.

Clarification: This is NOT about that ’empowerment’ word!

…and, finally, Fourth: It is now about ensuring that the right big-picture challenges are set, pursued and accomplished by the people and, in so doing, that this causes much experimentation, reflection and learning.

None of this leadership development logic is about being promoted because you are the best at performing your current job or that you are a hardened ‘go get ’em’ management hero. All of it is about your ability to facilitate improvement through others.

Managers instead of Consultants

…this leads me to observe that many a ‘command and control’ manager brings in consultants (or ‘Black Belts’) to facilitate his/her team through the likes of a Kaizen/ Rapid Improvement Event.

  • Worse still, such facilitators often prefer that the manager isn’t involved in these improvement events (except as ‘statesman’ at the beginning and ‘rubber stamper’ at the end) because their presence would seriously hinder what the people can achieve.
  • To add insult to injury, such an absent manager has attempted to delegate their improvement responsibilities and thus finds themselves even further from the work (the gemba) and with new/ higher barriers between themselves and their people.

…owch! If this is the case (and, sadly, it often is) then this is a very poor state to be in.

At Toyota, facilitation of improvement is what their managers are for! And, rather than a week-long ‘point improvement’ event performed every (say) 6 months, this facilitation should be ongoing.

You might respond that “Nice idea Steve…but our managers don’t have very good facilitation skills. We need expert practitioners to come in”. And that is precisely why Toyota looks for those people within its ranks that have the potential as facilitators of improvement…and then develops them into leaders.

Rother makes clear that The primary task of Toyota’s managers and leaders does not revolve around improvement per se, but around increasing the improvement capability of people. That capability is what, in Toyota’s view, strengthens the company. Toyota’s managers and leaders develop people who in turn improve processes through the improvement kata [pattern].

Developing the improvement capability of people at Toyota is not relegated to the human resources or the training and development departments. It is part of every day’s work in every area…”

Sense-check: It may be that your current managers are (or could be) great facilitators. However, if they have to use a ‘command and control’ management system on their people then it is unlikely that such fantastic skills will get a chance to blossom and deliver the potential value within. Worse, their efforts will likely clash with all that commanding and controlling going on.

Next time you feel the need to bring in facilitators, reflect on why. Is it because your managers:

  • don’t have the capability? or
  • do have the potential, but are constrained by the management system that they are required to operate within?

If your answer is a), then develop them. If it’s b), you have far bigger fish to fry…but don’t let this stop you from doing anything – remember the Two Parallel Tracks.

______________________________________________________________________

To close:

  • this post (Part 1) considers who we should be promoting, and why;
  • Part 2 will turn this all on its head and question the promotion career ladder logic. In short: we can’t all ‘get to the top’ and neither should we all want to.

Notes:

  1. Ahead: I use the word ‘ahead’ rather than ‘above because I’d like the reader to get out of a ‘superiors in the hierarchy’ mindset and, instead, think about people who happen to have been promoted to more senior positions because they are more advanced on this leadership development journey. This is merely a matter of timing, rather than importance.
  2. Fixed vs. Growth mindset: Professor Carol Dweck’s research suggests that we can judge how good people will be at learning new skills – our capacity to learn is determined by our beliefs as to whether our abilities are innate or can be learned. Dweck suggests a continuum with two extremes: A Fixed mindset and a Growth mindset. Don’t despair of those already in leadership positions that appear to have ‘fixed’ mindsets. This may very well be down to the environment in which they work (and have always worked) within. The important bit is to assess them once their environment is changed to encourage self-development and growth.
  3. Trained: the use of the ‘trained’ word in this quote applies to its meaning as is used in sport. Rother notes that “The concept of training in sports is quite different from what ‘training’ has come to mean in our companies. In sport it means repeatedly practicing an actual activity under the guidance of a coach. That kind of training, if applied as part of an overall strategy to develop new behaviour patterns is effective for changing behaviours.”

Rolling, rolling, rolling…

cheese-rolling1So let’s suppose that we (‘Management’) have come up with (what we think) is a great idea to improve a process. We’ve tried it out in one place (such as a branch/ outlet or a team/ shift or a channel/ brand) and we now want everyone else to change to our new brilliant way.

i.e. let’s do a roll out!

Excellent, so let’s ‘grease those wheels’ by bringing in a ‘change manager’1 who can work out sensible things to make this roll out happen:

  • Let’s ‘big it up’: We’ll prepare fancy presentations (and perhaps some posters for around the office) that explain the change in an up-beat and positive way that makes it sound just great!
  • Let’s deal with the worries: We’ll have a period of consultation, prepare a set of FAQ’s in response, and make small changes to show that we have taken these worries on board;
  • Let’s ‘motivate them’ to want it: We’ll adjust everyone’s balanced scorecard and related objectives, targets and incentives so as to make it ‘front and centre of stage’;
  • Let’s create a launch: We’ll design a competition2 where ‘demonstrated compliance’ with the new way wins prizes for an initial period of time.

…does any (all!) of the above look familiar?

Now to reverse this logic:

Imagine that every team:

  • Understands its capability (against a system’s purpose) and works in an environment that wants to continually improve;
  • …so wants to experiment (for themselves) with new ways of working;
  • …so, as well as coming up with their own ideas (which their environment encourages), is really interested in going to see what other teams are doing;
  • …so brings back new ideas to adjust, try, consider and conclude upon (using the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle);
  • …so is intrinsically motivated to rolling in new ways of working that they believe in.

John Seddon came up with the label ‘Roll in’ to explain this point. Here are his definitions:

Roll-out: Method that involves developing an improved process, standardising it and applying it to other areas*. This tends to create two problems:

  1. The solution is not optimised for each specific context so it is not a good fit;
  2. The staff in the other units have not been through the same learning and therefore feel little sense of ownership. They may also feel a loss of control and resist change.

(*I note that the much used ‘achieving buy-in’ phrase is synonymous with the ‘rolling out’ phrase i.e. it is actually about someone trying to sell something)

Roll-in: A method to scale up a change to the whole organisation that was successful in one unit. Change is not imposed. Instead each area needs to learn how to do the analysis of waste for themselves and devise their own solutions. This approach engages the workforce and produces better, more sustainable solutions.”

…meanwhile back at Toyota:

You might have heard that a big part of the hugely successful Toyota Production System (TPS) is standardisation3. and you might then make the mental leap to assume that every shift in every comparative production line in every Toyota plant across the world conform to the one ‘standard’ (i.e. the exact same methods). Yet such an assumption would be incorrect.

Liker’s decades of Toyota research makes clear that change is most definitely NOT imposed on the people and their processes. Instead, each unit (at all levels) is set a clear challenge (a target condition ) that aligns with purpose and is then coached through experiments to achieve it. And, once achieved, the cycle starts again.

So a given team on a given line in a given plant will want a standard way of working so that they are very clear on how to (currently) perform a task but this standard may be quite different to another team/ line/ plant.

Key points in this Toyota way of thinking:

  • The challenge that is set isn’t about rolling out some pre-defined solution. The solution is not known. It is up to each team to work out how to get there for themselves (see ‘how to have a successful journey’);
  • Each challenge is specific to each team, taking account of their current condition;
    • A mature plant in Japan would have very different challenges set to a much newer plant in, say, America, even though they might be making the same car model;
  • It is perfectly acceptable for one plant (say) to arrive at a different method of working to another. This is in fact considered a good thing because it keeps people thinking, broadens ideas and sets off yet deeper studying and understanding…fuelling yet more improvements;
  • It creates a desire for collaboration between plants: they are very interested in what others are doing (going to each others ‘Gemba’* ). This is the total opposite to the competitive (and myopic) mentality of ‘Our team’s way is the best way…it must be – we won a prize!‘;
    • In fact, a mature Japanese plant wants to go and see what a newer American plant has come up with because they understand that the ‘newbies’ may have come up with completely different (and potentially step-change) ways of thinking.
  • If a team from plant B do a Gemba walk at sister plant A and sees something of interest, they don’t just go home and implement it! They can’t – because that would just be the ‘plant visit’ team dictating to their colleagues back home. No, instead, they will explain what they saw, experiment, decide whether it is of use to them and, if so, adapt so that it fits for their needs;
    • The original plant A is highly likely to do a ‘reverse’ Gemba walk to see what plant B has done with their ideas…and then rush back home to experiment again….and, hey presto, what a healthy innovation cycle we have!

(* Reminder: Gemba roughly translates as ‘the place where the work happens’)

In short: Seddon didn’t invent the ‘roll in’ idea (Toyota, as an excellent example, have worked this way for decades) but he is very good at putting it into words, giving it a name and passionately championing it.

Looking back, it seems pretty obvious that if people find out about and learn things for themselves then this will be fulfilling and lead to real and sustained successes….which will create a virtuous circle. No such worthy circle exists from ‘stuff being done to you’.

But what about that Iceberg?

Many of you will have been introduced to, and likely read, John Kotter’s well written business story book called ‘My Iceberg is melting’. If you haven’t then it’s about a colony of penguins having to deal with a change being imposed upon them (the clue to that change is in the name of the book!).

Now, if you are having a change imposed upon you, then Kotter’s logic might be very useful to you….but, wow, wouldn’t it be sooo much better if you decided on your own changes!

I think one quote sums much of this post up nicely:

“People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” (Scholtes)

Be realistic!

“Oh come on Steve, sometimes change is imposed and you’ve just got to deal with this!”

Yes, this is most definitely so. But here’s some counters to this critique:

  • Such a change should be coming externally (such as a legislative, societal or environmental change)…not from within the organisation;
  • Even if such change occurs, it is still better for the organisation to deal with it by setting its people suitable challenges (rather than dictated solutions) and leading them through rolling in changes for themselves;
  • If your people are used to the ‘roll in’ change paradigm then you will have a whole bunch of people who are skilled, creative and motivated problem solvers …just imagine how fantastic that capability would be for an organisation every time the challenge of an external change has to be handled!

…and finally:

Here’s an Ackoff ‘f-Law’ that might resonate with you as a true-ism:

“The only thing more difficult than starting something new in an organization is stopping something old.”

I think we all recognise that the ‘roll out’ problem doesn’t stop with merely getting someone to do something new…

Consider that, in contrast, by using ‘roll in’ the people are choosing for themselves to stop doing the old (whatever that is for them).

______________________________________________________________________

Addendum: I always ask someone (relevant to the subject) to act as editor before I publish. My editors always add great value Here are a few improvements:

  • Whilst Toyota may not enforce the same standard way of working across everywhere, it could be argued that they do have a cross-organisational standard way of thinking and acting (i.e. their management system, which has been termed ‘The Toyota Way’)…but, just like rolling in, this wasn’t copied from elsewhere and dictated to them – it came about through years of humility and experimentation;
  • If you want everyone rolling in the same direction then you still need a very clear (and meaningful) purpose, and systems thinking, such that all challenges being set lead to the same point on the horizon;
  • The ‘corporate form’ (e.g. a public body, private enterprise, large publicly quoted company,…) will likely have a huge impact on where you are now, and where you can get to;
  • You might like the idea of rolling in (as compared to rolling out) and say “yeah, great…how do we get there from here?” This is a BIG question, and just happens to relate to a future post which the ink is drying on….so, with that segue, please tune in again then.

Notes:

  1. Change management within command and control organisations is usually about senior leaders getting people to do what they want them to. Their employment of a skilled ‘change manager’ (of which there are many) may substantially improve the roll out outcomes…but it is still a roll out, with all its associated limitations.
  2. Competitions: Please don’t run ‘change’ competitions like this…or, if you do, know the harm that they cause. Research* shows that: Providing a reward for doing something seriously devalues that thing; and people think even worse of that thing once the reward period has finished, thus likely slipping back to how it was before and then making it that much harder to ‘get them to change’ (* see Alfie Kohn’s book ‘Punished by Rewards’).
  3. Standardisation: Don’t make the assumption that this standardisation principle is exactly the same for service organisations – it isn’t. I use it in this post merely to explain and demonstrate the roll-in principle.

So why can’t we do that?!

tesla-factoryI don’t know about you but ever since I was a kid I have loved watching short videos of manufacturing plants and staring in wonder at how the products we take for granted actually get made! It all seems so futuristic and alien.

Here’s a short (4 mins) yet amazing video showing the mind-boggling production of TESLA Model S cars over in Fremont, California.

What do you notice? Here’s what I see:

  • a large, high volume manufacturing plant;
  • an ultra clean and tidy environment;
  • ordered, smooth flow through specialised process steps;
  • consistency of operation and velocity;
  • substantial mechanisation & automation;
  • calm and assured humans working alongside the machines;
  • …with a high quality product coming out the end.

Sounds fantastic, I’ll have some of that!

…so why is it that service organisations don’t seem to get anywhere near the awesomeness that is modern day manufacturing?

Here’s the answer…..because they try to copy manufacturing!

“Hey, that doesn’t make sense…”

Surely (I hear you say) if manufacturing is sooo advanced from the times of Henry Ford and through Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System, then service organisations should be studying what they have done and applying it to their world?

And, indeed, that is what many (most) service organisations have done. But, in doing so, they have spectacularly missed a crucial point: Service is different to manufacturing and therefore they have been ‘solving the wrong problem’.

Here’s a fundamental John Seddon quote with regards to service:

“Service differs from manufacturing. There is inherently more variety in customer demand….Whilst the Toyota method was developed to solve the problem of how to produce vehicles at the rate of customer demand, in service organisations the problem is how to design the system to absorb variety.”

Going back to the TESLA factory, notice how each car being made is essentially the same. Now I know that there is some variety – different colours, different engines, different trim levels – but it is basically the same (modular) product. I also know that Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System brilliantly worked out methods to deliver this limited variety within the one production process (as opposed to requiring separate lines).

Much of manufacturing has adopted the mantra of ‘specialise, standardise, centralise and then automate’….but this is just about the opposite of what would be good for a customer requiring their very specific needs to be met for a service.

Let’s carry on with the car example but move on down the process to the service end – the selling, distribution and servicing of the car.

Let’s assume that TESLA’s competitor, TRAGIC, has applied the manufacturing mantra to their car service processes.

TRAGIC has created a centralised and highly automated ‘contact centre’ and separate ‘service centre’, both of which are broken up into highly specialised teams with standardised processes.

  • you will be directed to a website on which it is nigh on impossible to find out what you need to know, let alone a way of contacting a human being for a conversation;
  • …assuming you do find a contact number, you will then be punished by a multi-layered IVR that doesn’t have an option that meets your specific need;
  • you will have a standardised ‘scripted’ conversation with someone who doesn’t seem to be allowed to help you with your actual needs…but who can transfer you to [insert name of another department here];
  • you will then be passed around a number of specialised departments as they all ‘pass the parcel’;
  • you will be allocated to a ‘back office’ work queue and will have to repeat everything you have said so far to whomever is allocated your ‘ticket’…and they will likely disagree with whatever the person before them said to you along the lines of “oh no, I only do this” or “no, they don’t know what they are talking about, we can’t do that for you”;
  • you will talk with people who have a standard time slot allocated to you (or at least an ‘average handling time’ target), who will ask you standardised questions, categorise you according to limited drop-down boxes in their computer and then allocate you to defined ‘solutions’;
  • you will be confused as to who is actually dealing with you (or who even cares);
  • you will spend time and effort chasing up what is happening;
  • you will be provided with a standardised solution which either doesn’t meet (or only partially meets) your needs;
  • ….you will be forced through the whole sorry process again (and perhaps again) as you struggle to get your actual need resolved.

The Point:

In service, the customer comes in ‘customer shaped’. Our job is to design the system so that it can absorb their variety, not frustrate it.

Beware the manufacturing mantra of ‘specialise, standardise, centralise and then automate’.

Toyota and automation: I know that the TESLA factory looks like it’s been taken over by intelligent robots…but don’t get too carried away with automation in manufacturing. It’s worth noting that:

  • Studies have shown Toyota factories to be significantly more efficient than their competitors despite being less automated;
  • Toyota is wary of ‘over automation’ and has been reported to be reducing/ removing some automation in preference to human beings carrying out the work.

Their rationale? Putting to one side the enormous cost of developing, buying, installing and maintaining robotics, a robot simply does what it is programmed to do. Contrast this with a human that can think about the process they are performing and continually look for ways to improve it.

This can be the difference between static and dynamic processes…but of course this is only relevant if the human is in an environment that motivates them to continually improve what they do.

A Gulf in Thinking

keep-calm-and-pull-andon-cord-4The Toyota Production System famously uses the andon system: the provision of a cord hanging from the ceiling* at every worker’s station that, once pulled, indicates that the worker has identified a problem and that no more work should pass through their section of the line until this problem has been resolved.

(* it doesn’t have to be a cord, it can be a button or other such device.)

The problem could be anything. If the worker isn’t happy about something, then the cord gets pulled!

Once pulled, a light and/or buzzer will be triggered. The worker’s supervisor will come to their station and, together, they will consider the problem and how to resolve it. Depending on the problem, it may be resolved fully or temporarily whilst a better countermeasure is worked on in parallel (i.e. the temporary doesn’t become permanent!)

This ‘stop the line’ mentality means that:

  • No more units of work can go through the line whilst the problem exists, meaning that the customers are protected from receiving a defective product/ service;
  • The problem is solved as soon as it occurs. It’s not a case of “yeah, we’ve known about it for ages but no one’s done anything about it (yet!)…”; and
  • The process is continually improving naturally, as it operates. I love this bit – the workers are the source of this improvement rather than specialist improvement teams being sent in to monitor them and their work.

And to be clear, this andon system is equally applicable to a service organisation and its processes as it is to a manufacturing line. If you are performing a service but experience a problem…stop…don’t keep processing yet more units through the problem…work to remove the problem. This ‘stop’ doesn’t mean stop answering customer demand (such as picking up the phone) but it does mean stop doing things that you know aren’t going to be good for that, and future, units of work.

Now, obviously, a process performer is constrained by the system and can’t resolve problems by themselves. The andon system is far more than a cord! It is workers, supervisors and managers all working together with the same ‘stop the line and fix it’ mentality.

H. Thomas Johnson, in his highly regarded book ‘Profit beyond measure’ explains a conversation he had with a training executive from one of the American ‘Big Three’ auto companies who were trying to emulate Toyota by copying their tools and techniques.

This is what the executive said when Johnson asked how her company presents the andon system in employee training:

“Employees are told that the andon system is very important to achieving high quality, but they are told that they must use the cord responsibly. That means don’t pull it unless it is absolutely necessary, because pulling the cord and stopping the line is very costly.”

…and so this executive exposes the absolute gulf in thinking between her organisation and (System Thinking organisations such as) Toyota!

THE point of the andon system is that the employee is able to stop their work at will.

How the hell does the worker know if it’s ‘absolutely necessary’? What does that even mean? Toyota want the worker to ‘pull the cord’ even if they are simply uncertain about something…so that this uncertainty can be identified, understood and removed – it’s not the workers fault if they aren’t sure about something! It’s the system.

They also want the worker to pull the cord if they can’t keep pace with the line. Again, this is the worker telling them something that they need to know…not an opportunity to blame the worker as a ‘slacker’. They can then look at why the worker can’t keep pace. This could be for a myriad of reasons.

You can see why a Toyota line will continue to get better and better every day and their workers more expert, feeling more respected and as a result more engaged in wanting to improve.

You can also see that their American competitor is playing a ‘command and control’ mind game on their workers. The worker is thinking “should I pull the cord? Not sure…best not to since I don’t want to be blamed for the cost.”

Paradoxically, it will be Toyota’s costs that will be going down!!!

Now, Toyota does monitor the number of times the cords are pulled in a given period (i.e. they do care about who is pulling it and how often) but not as you might think…

…they are most concerned when the number of ‘stop the line’ signals goes down…because this indicates that they are not improving as much as they were…and this concerns them: more andon cord pulls please!!!

Oh, and one last (yet important) thing: targets, and contingent rewards , are the sworn enemy of stopping the line to resolve a problem!