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.