“Management Resistance” or Poor Process?

At leanblog.org, Mark Graban recently posted about the latest State of Lean survey from the LEI. His observation is that the survey seems to be a search-for-blame (looking for the sources of resistance) rather than focused on root cause for the resistance itself. Following a couple of links in that post takes us back a year to his comments on the 2007 survey, and then to an attempt to go through 5 Why’s.

I just took the survey myself, and felt the same way. It is really easy for the “lean guys” to cite “management resistance” as a root cause. Certainly there are instances when local leaders are outwardly hostile or passive-aggressive about the proposed changes. But I’d like to explore this a bit.

Just as it is easy to blame the Team Member’s inattention for an accident or a defect, it is easy to blame leaders for failure to embrace the kaizen culture. In both cases, though, the kaizen culture itself mandates exhausting every other possibility before we shift our focus from “process” to “person” as the problem. And even if “person” ends up in the chain of causes, again, the kaizen culture demands that we ask “Why?” a few more times and try to get to the reasons why a person behaves the way he or she does. Although not put quite in these terms, these are people principles which have been taught since the early 1940’s as part of TWI Job Relations.

Back last July I related a story in “The Chalk Circle – Continued” where the “lean leaders” of a large company were busy blaming management non-involvement for the continuous backsliding we were experiencing. At the end of the story, Dave’s “oh shit” comment sums it up when we realized that the last “Why?” in our chain pointed, not at the leaders, but at us. The way we got there was (by accident) staying on a “process” path in our discussions.

Since then I have learned a few things, but I think the basic message still stands.

First, I’d like to propose to re-frame the problem because I think “leader resistance” is pejorative. I’d like to go through a series of questions. The first is getting a little more clear on what, exactly, we are asking of these leaders. Accepting that the opposite of “resistant” is “engaged” for the purposes of this discussion:

What do “engaged leaders” do?
Without a clear picture in our heads as an answer to this question, we cannot develop effective countermeasures. Honestly, I don’t think there is a strong consensus out there. I can go into why that is, but it is a topic for another (lengthy) post.

Suffice it to say that we need a working definition. I was going to render an opinion here, but I decided instead to drop the question into the LEI site’s forums, and see what others think. (If you are not a member you will have to register first, but that is no big deal.)

You can also leave a comment here.

After I see where people are going, I’ll ask another question.

Getting Leaders Involved

“How do I get the leaders involved?” How often have we all heard, or even asked, that question? Of course the actual answer is “you can’t.” At least you can’t force them to. But there are things that might help the leader decide to get involved.

I think the biggest mistake people make is to assume that in the face of adequate logical argument, a right-thinking leader will see the benefits and jump right in. This thinking ignores one simple truth: Leaders are human. Humans, in spite of our desire to believe otherwise, make decisions at an emotional level, and then construct a logical argument to support the decision. Actually we construct illogical arguments, carefully shaping, amplifying, demoting, excluding evidence to rationalize what we want to do. We humans would all like to believe (or would like other humans to believe) that our decisions are logical and rational. Sorry, just ’tain’t so. Advertisers and marketers know this, as do good politicians.

Another big mistake is to think it is possible to use measures to “make” them engage. “If only,” it is thought, “we used the right metrics.” Again, sorry. You can’t measure people into behaving a certain way. An even worse approach is to try to measure “lean implementation” as if you can quantify it by looking at what tools are in use. That, at best, drives the wrong behavior with shallow understanding. At worst, it poisons the entire implementation. Counting kaizen events falls into this category, as does demanding central reporting on them.

True leaders do what they believe are the right things, metrics be damned. And the ones who focus all of their decisions on making the metrics look good are not the people you want to have that kind of responsibility.

So what does work?

Let’s go back and think through what we want here.

Consider this: We emphasize full involvement and participation from the people who carry out the production processes, but we don’t demand the same level of participation from the people who carry out the management process.

So what do we do to get the production people fully participating? I can’t speak for anyone else, but what I have found that works is to give them the opportunity to step back and just watch the process and understand what is actually happening.

Remember, there are no guarantees. Nothing is a sure bet. But if you buy the argument that a purely logical argument probably isn’t going to do it, then you need to look at how to make an emotional impact.

I think the key is to help them see one important thing: Most of the things which disrupt people’s work are small. They are small problems, and each one has a small impact. It is the cumulative impact of these issues which overwhelm the traditional response system.

But those small things are also wonderful because almost anyone with a little time, a little smarts, and a little leadership support can come up with countermeasures that make those problems go away. Since “smarts” is pretty much randomly distributed in the organization (meaning no one has a monopoly on it by virtue of position), it is the other two ingredients which leadership must provide.

The classic “kaizen event” is a wonderful way to teach just what this is about. In fact, that was the original intention of the classic “kaizen event.” I have already talked about that. But you don’t need a formal kaizen event to do this, you just need you and a leader willing to humor you.

Take your leader down to the work area. Stand with him “in the chalk circle” and give him a running commentary of what you see. Call out everything that isn’t value-add, and get him thinking why that activity is necessary. Then go fix something. The two of you, together. Go get the cardboard, the bins. Go propose a couple of solutions to the affected worker(s). Going to them with something concrete to bounce from is a more effective way (in the beginning) to get their input than asking them a totally open-ended “What do you want here?” question.

Try a few things, make an improvement.

Then make another. Then another.

Work at this for as long as you can get away with it.

Then ask your leader to do the same thing you just did with him, only do it with his direct report(s). At that point, try to shift your role to that of a facilitator and adviser.

If you succeed, you leader catches kaizen fever.

Be Sure: What Are You Trying To Accomplish?

And how will you know you have accomplished it?

This article on Tech Republic is about defense against a hacker strategy called “Social Engineering” wherein the hacker uses a ruse to gain someone’s trust. The goal (for the hacker) is to leverage human nature and get information or access.

So what does this have to do with lean thinking?

It emphasizes the nature of policies with unintended consequences. I have seen all kinds of environments where a Team Member would suffer negative consequences for doing the very thing required to assure safety, quality, delivery or reduce costs. Never happens in your company, right? The examples in the article are mainly in items (2), (3), and (4).

I especially like (4) where the hacker poses as a person in power and simply intimidates the Team Member into giving him the information he wants. What is the countermeasure?

Strict policies and procedures created to discourage this kind of bullying. If it’s allowed from management, someone engaging in social engineering will be able to employ it.

Think about it. If someone abusing his authority is normal behavior, then your Team Member will not be able to detect this condition something out of the ordinary.

In another context, if a Team Member is routinely told “We’ll fix it in inspection” or to otherwise ignore a defect and allow it to pass on, then he will quickly stop reporting them.

Think through the behavior you want people to exhibit. Then, study (stand in the chalk circle again) and see for yourself what the actual behavior is. If it is different than what you expect or what you want, start asking the 5 Why’s. What people do every day is the norm of your organization. It is the path of least resistance. If you want people to do something different, then you must make the right way the easiest way.

This accomplished by a combination of mistake-proofing, policies and procedures that support people who do the right thing, and continuous two-level checking by leaders to reinforce and encourage.

In Item (2) in the article, the author talks about the “I don’t want to get in trouble” excuse. In his example, there is a negative consequence for reporting a lost or misplaced ID badge, so everyone works to avoid reporting the problem. Perhaps the intent was to have people pay more attention. As Deming said, you must drive out fear, and this isn’t the way to do it.

Remember: The right process will produce the right results. Think:

What results are you trying to accomplish? How will you know you have accomplished them? (How will you check or verify your results?)

The more clear you are on the target condition, the better equipped you are to think through how you will achieve it. When dealing with people, it is easier than you think to build negative consequences for the very thing you want them to do.