What Can You Do For Me?

I have probably written around this question in the past, but it comes up often enough that I wanted to address is specifically.

One of the challenges facing the lean practitioner is the “What can you do for me?” boss (or client).

This manager wants to know the expected ROI and outcome of your proposal before he agrees to make the investment in improvement.

This style of proposal-evaluation-decision management is exactly what is taught in every business school in the world. The process of management is a process of deciding between alternative courses of action, including no action at all.

This approach actually creates “no action” as the baseline. Any change is going to disrupt the status-quo and incur some kind of cost. Therefore, the thinking goes, the change better be worth it. “Am I going to get enough back?”

“What can you do for me?” implies a general sense of satisfaction with the status quo.

The lean thinker reverses this model. The status quo is a stagnant and dangerous place.

There is always an improved state that we are striving for.

Rather than measuring progress from the current state, we are measuring remaining gap to the target, and we must close that gap.

There are problems in the way.

Proposed solutions to those problems are evaluated on (among many other things) cost to see if the solution is an acceptable one, or if more work is required to find a better solution. But maintaining the status quo is not on the table. The decision has already been made to advance the capability of the organization. The only decision is around how to do it, not whether to do it.

So when a legacy GM style manager asks “What can you do for me?” the question must be changed to “What are you striving to achieve?”

Challenging the complacency of the status quo is our biggest hurdle.

4 Replies to “What Can You Do For Me?”

  1. Mark,

    As usual, very well said.

    Reversing the “status quo as a baseline” mentality is indeed rough business. I’m going to re-read this as many times as it takes until I can communicate it as concisely as you have.



  2. Right on !

    Sometimes it even gets to the point where we want to make an improvement. And it is almost impossible to show a return on investment. But still everyone involved, even management, knows it the right thing to do.

  3. Our continuation along the process improvement journey came as a result of being smacked in the face by the status quo. We had closed out a large project, had a newly designed and implemented process that was producing great results.

    Input passage of time and increased sales as a result of the improvents to our position in the market because of that initial project…..

    We found ourselves with a process that needed improvement, because although we had icreased its capacity and performance, with the increased load we could not keep up with work. Management responded by not only working to improve that same process again, but devoting resources of the company to continue looking for opportunities for improvement. And, after finding them, to drive improvement efforts in those areas.

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