Deciding vs. Discovering and Developing

In a recent blog post, Why C level executives don’t engage in ‘lean’…, Steven Spear makes a really interesting observation. He cites two main reasons.

1) “Lean” is regarded as a tool kit. There has already been a lot written here, and elsewhere, on this fallacy and how it continues to be propagated. Spear’s most interesting observation is his second point.

2) Business leaders are trained to make decisions. They are not trained to engage in discovery and development of the organization.

This really hit home for me. Synchronicity being what it is, last week in Prague this very topic was the subject of more than one conversation over a glass some glasses of Pilsner Urquell.

Spear sums it up here:

The thing is, business managers are not trained to learn/discover.  Rather they are trained to decide about transactions.  Consider the MBA curriculum core:

  • Finance–how to value transactions
  • Accounting–how to track transactions
  • Strategy–taught as a transactional discipline of entering or exiting markets based on relative strength and weakness.
  • OM courses–heavily pervaded by analytical tools (in support of decisions).

Largely absent: scientific method, experimentation, exploration, learning methods, teaching methods, etc.

Therefore, even for those who have seen TPS et al as management systems rooted in organizational learning and broad based, non stop, high velocity discovery are ill prepared to switch from decision mode to discovery.

Each of these two factors – regarding “lean” as a tool kit and being trained to make decision – would, alone, bias an executive toward “deciding to implement lean” and then delegating it to staff technical specialists. And when we say “management support” here in the USA, we often come from the same paradigm. While we feel that a decision to do it is nice, but not enough, we often have a tough time putting our finger on exactly what we want when we say “we need more management engagement.”

To make it worse, even if we have management engagement, they still don’t have the skill sets to actually engage the way they need to.

So we end up implementing the tools, and wondering why the leadership doesn’t grab the ball and run with it. The reason? Because they decided to give you (the technical practitioner) the ball.

What to do?

There is a great trend out there right now. All of this is starting to come together.

Taking the pieces that are out there and putting them together we have identified a problem, we have likely arrived at a couple of good causes, and we have a proposed countermeasure on the table.

If you have been reading along over the last few weeks, you know I have been reading (and like, a lot) Mike Rother’s book Toyota Kata. In his last chapters, Rother puts forth an approach that just might work for teaching leaders the skills that Spear points out they simply do not have. I found it affirming because I was starting to advocate, and follow, a similar approach. Toyota Kata will help a lot because it gives me not only a little more structure, but also some credible backing that I might not be nuts for thinking this.

Watch for a full review of Toyota Kata in the next week or so, but in the meantime, know that though I have some minor quibbles, I am going to advocate buying it, reading it, and doing what it says.

3 Replies to “Deciding vs. Discovering and Developing”

  1. Mark,

    Let me offer my personal opinion as to why more leaders don’t “get it” with lean. From my experience, most leaders believe lean is something they “order to have done” as opposed to something they “do.” This runs absolutely counter to what Mr. Nakao used to tell us about “getting our hands dirty.” His council was that in order to do this lean stuff right, you really needed to roll your sleeves up and get involved. I think many of our current executives (notice I didn’t say leaders) just don’t want to or know how to get their hands dirty and lead by example. Ever notice that the most successful lean companies are led by folks with lean dirt under their fingernails? Hmmm.

    So why do we have so many executives who simply demand that “lean be implemented?” I’d suggest that we can trace this one all the way back to our “instant gratification” society. How many executives have you heard about lately that by the mere fact of walking in the door, turned a company around? I think we all know that even the best executives need some time to start altering the course of the ship. But, the stock market and everybody else wants instant results. Since we all know implementing lean the right way takes time and nobody has the time to take, we get exactly what you see all too often. Sad, but true.

    1. Actually I think it is more fundamental. The body of theory coming together in behavioral science, psychology and even neurobiology is contradicting foundations of our economic theories that people are rational agents seeking to maximize their value for a given investment. We are, in fact, hard wired to put far more weight on immediate satisfaction than postponed satisfaction.

      This is reinforced by the business education process. Since they were Freshmen, these executives have been hearing nothing about management other than how to make decisions based on returns on investment and financial models. Thus, what creates a sense of satisfaction is short term wins.

      Within a Toyota-type culture, however, the education system has a different message. From day one, they learn that “goodness” comes from solving the problem. They work in an environment where the energy of solving problems is focused on moving forward in a unified direction toward ideal flow. They have heard nothing else.

      People will respond to the culture they are in.

      But it can be changed, it just takes work on OUR part.
      The first step is understanding the current situation, and in this, I think Spear’s article gives valuable insight.

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