Leadership and Challenges

This post rambles a bit, and wraps up a few concepts. It was, however, inspired by a recent interview of Mike Rother on Lean Nation. (See below)

One of the many good points that struck me was that you can’t rally around an ROI.

Yet companies try to do just that. They set something ROI or margin objectives, and wonder why everyone doesn’t pick them up and run with them.

Even companies that do issue a good challenge often come up wondering why the organization doesn’t align around it. Rother mentions one good reason: Nobody is there to coach them through meeting their part of the challenge.

A similar fallacy is trying to rally people around an abstract vision. I have experienced this a couple of times. A company tries to apply general education to people – lots of it – in the (vain) hope that once people “understand” then they will pick up the ball and run. But without consistent direction toward a limited objective that is easily articulated, people freeze up. “What do we work on?” There are too many choices.

Chip and Dan Heath discuss the importance of a rallying point in their book about culture change, Switch. They talk about “Pointing to the Destination” and “Scripting the Critical Moves.” When we talk about an aligning challenge, we are saying the same thing. Remember – in these initial stages you are trying to infuse a fundamental behavior and culture change. You can’t just tell people what it is and expect things to change tomorrow.

Classroom training may teach people the words, but it does little to accelerate the process of learning on the shop floor. That takes leadership.

More after the video:

One of the concepts that Rother discusses in Toyota Kata is the concept of “True North.” Spear also talks about it as striving toward the ideal process. Same thing, different words.

But at another level, when we are trying to shape a different management system, it is equally important for the leaders to have a “true north” for the ideal leadership process. I think this is different (or should be expressed differently) from the True North of the ideal value-adding process.

As I develop my own practice, I am honing in on those key elements of “leadership true north” and making it the cornerstone of my engagements. Mainly I try to describe specific behaviors and critical elements that need to be in place. This seems to play better than abstract concepts like “servant leadership” because it tells people what they need to do. (See “Script the Critical Moves.”)

2 thoughts to “Leadership and Challenges”

  1. It’s been well documented that to really engage employees you need a purpose that they can buy into. Whilst I think ROI is crucial to measure how effective you’ve been at achieving that purpose, it shouldn’t be pushed as the purpose itself.

    1. There are plenty of companies who manage in ways that are well-documented as ineffective, so clearly just having the knowledge is not enough. I have seen managers who, even when confronted with solid research and other proof, vehemently resist the concepts that counter their beliefs about how people should be motivated.

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