Andon Leadership

On a world-class automobile assembly line, the actual work is continuously being compared to the planned work. In each work zone, there is a planned sequence of tasks which are expected to produce a specified output.

If there is any departure at all from the planned sequence, if things get behind the planned timeline, if the necessary conditions are not there, if any process step does not complete as required then either the Team Member or an automated system turns on a help call – an andon.

The response is immediate. The first response is within seconds with a priority of clearing the problem. The line itself is still moving, but if the problem is not cleared before the end of the takt time the line automatically stops – things go from “yellow” to “red.” When that happens, the responsibility for the problem also shifts up a level in the response chain.

The priority is still to clear the problem quickly – and clearing the problem means to restore conditions required for safety and quality without compromise.

Once the problem is cleared, and the line re-started, the rest of the problem solving process engages to find the cause of the problem and address it in the system itself. If the problem is outside of the bounds, or outside of the capability, of the original Team Leader to solve, then his chain-of-support will engage to help him solve it so that his skills can be improved.

In summary – we have a sequence of tasks to be accomplished over about six hours that, in the end, will result in a car. That sequence of tasks is further broken down into sub-intervals where progress against the plan is checked. If problems develop, the system responds, swarms the problem to clear it, understand it, and adjust the process if necessary.

None of the above should be a surprise.

But what happens in your management monthly reviews?

Huh? How are management monthly reviews related to an assembly line?

Let’s see. In a reasonably functional organization the business plan is (or should be!) a series of tasks to be accomplished over a period of time that, in the end, will deliver specified results. That sequence of tasks is further broken down into sub-intervals where progress of the plan is checked.

But in a typical monthly review, the analogy ends there. When problems develop, the reasons are discussed, mentioned, and worked around. In dysfunctional organizations only the objectives are discussed, and in truly dysfunctional organizations the objectives themselves are adjusted to match what is accomplished.

Shift your thinking a bit, and apply the assembly line analogy to its end-state.

The monthly review is the fixed-stop position. Up to this point, the person responsible for the task “owns” it. He should be checking progress and ensuring that things are getting done as specified, and that the results being achieved are as anticipated (predicted). He should be monitoring conditions and making sure that the operating assumptions are holding. Ideally those checks are built-in to the process and planning so that they are at least semi-automatic.

If all is “green” going into the monthly review, then things are great.

But if something is “off” – yellow – that is equivalent to an andon call. The responsible person is that first-responder. He has until the next review to clear the problem. Think about the ramifications here. This means that if the reviews with the boss are every month, the responsible manager better not wait until the week before to find out what is happening so he can report on it. He has to stay in touch with what is happening.

The monthly review is the fixed-stop-position at the review, and the “andon” goes red.

The reviewing manager now “owns” the problem. His job is now to ensure that there are effective countermeasures in place to get things back on track. That does not absolve the responsible manager, but rather, this becomes a “check” and an “act” for his professional development by the more senior leader.

Again, think of the ramifications. The responsible manager must not only be in touch with what is happening, he also needs to make sure his people are being developed and pushed to fully understand the problems as they occur.

The job of these leaders, at each level, is not only to keep intimately in touch with what is going on, but also be fully aware of the skills, gaps and development of their people. If someone should be able to handle an issue, but can’t, that is a skill gap that, like any other gap, must be addressed (in this case by developing the person).

In mediocre organizations, professional development is owned and overseen by H.R. and may be tied to the annual review process. In organizations that “get it” professional development is a natural part of the leadership process, and happens at all levels in the natural course of getting things done.

A3 by PowerPoint

aarrgh! all of the purists say! Death by PowerPoint. Yup.

But one of today’s realities is that many managers expect to be “briefed” and expect it to be done in a conference room with a projector and… PowerPoint.

Getting them to sit down and go through a single sheet of A3 paper is going to be a stretch at best. So let me propose an interim.

Five slides, six at the most.

No fancy headings, logos, etc. They take up space and distract from the message.

Simple text. No animation. Pictures, graphs to make the points.

The slides are:

Background / Current Condition

Briefly cover where we are, and why we are talking about this right now.

Back up your assertions with data and facts. Note that, in my context, a “fact” is something you can see, observe, sense, touch. The data must be explained by the facts.


What is this going to look like when we are successful?

The target is binary. It is verifiable as “met” or “not met.” It does not include vague words like “improved” or “reduced” which are subject to interpretation.


What is keeping us from hitting the target right now? What is in the way? What must be solved, what barrier must be cleared, what factor must be eliminated?

Clearly demonstrate that dealing with these issues will allow reaching the target.

Countermeasures / Implementation

What actions will be taken to deal with the issues or shortcomings?

When will they be taken?

Who will take them?

When will they be checked for successful implementation?

For each one, what is the predicted effect if it works as planned?

How will you check the actual effect?

Do the cumulative predicted effects of your countermeasures add up to enough to close the gap and reach the target?

If not, then what else are you going to do?

Results / Follow-Up

What actually happened?

If When things got off track, what is the recovery / correction plan?

If When actual results were different than planned, what else are you going to do?

Did you reach the target? If not, what else are you going to do?

It’s the thinking, not the format!

Do the headers change sometimes? Sure, but the intent is:

What is happening?

What do you want to happen?

What is the gap?

What will you do to get it there, and how will you check that:

  • You did you you planned.
  • It worked like you expected?

Do it.

Check it.

Fix it.



This is a leader’s tool

If it is done well, and done correctly, it is done the way John Shook describes it in his new book Managing to Learn. But don’t confuse the size of the paper with the structure of the thinking. Get that right. Worry about the sheet of paper later if you must.

When encountering resistance, a good teacher knows what things can be left for later, and which ones are critical to get right.

Management by Measurement vs. a Problem Solving Culture

As I promised, I want to expand on a couple of great points buried in John Shook’s new book Managing to Learn, published by LEI.

A while back I commented on an article, Lean Dilemma: System Principles vs. Management Accounting Controls, in which H. Thomas Johnson points out that

Perhaps what you measure is what you get.
More likely, what you measure is all you get. What you don’t (or can’t) measure is lost.

In his introduction to the book, Shook describes the contrast:

Where the laissez-faire, hands-off manager will content himself to set targets and delegate everything, essentially saying, “I don’t care how you do it, as long as you get the results,” the Toyota manager desperately wants to know how you’ll do it, saying “I want to hear everything about your thinking, tell me about your plans.”

and a little later:

This is a stark contrast to the results-only oriented management-by-numbers approach.

Shook then also references H. Thomas Johnson’s paper. (like minds?)

But I would like to dive a little deeper into the contrast of leadership cultures here.

Let’s say the “management by measurement” leader thinks there is too much working capital tied up in excess inventory.

His countermeasure would be to set a key performance indicator (KPI) of inventory levels, or inventory turns, and “hold people accountable” for hitting their targets.

Since there is little interest expressed in how this is done, the savvy numbers-focused subordinate understands the accounting system and sees that inventory levels are taken at the end of each financial quarter, and those levels are used to generate the report of inventory turns. This is also the number used to report to the shareholders and the SEC.

His response is to take actions necessary to get inventory as low as possible during the week or on the day when that snapshot is taken. It is then a simple matter to take actions necessary. A couple of classics are:

  • Pull forward orders from next quarter, fill and ship them early.
  • Slow down (or even stop) production in the last week or two of the quarter.
  • Shift inventory from “finished goods” to “in transit” to get it off the books.

While, in my opinion (which is all that is), actions like this are at best deceptive, and (when reported as true financial results) possibly bordering on fraud, the truth is that these kinds of things happen all of the time in reputable companies.

So what is the countermeasure?

In a “management by measurement” culture, the leader (if he cares in the first place), would respond to put in additional measurements and rules that, hopefully, constrain the behavior he does not want. He would start measuring inventory levels more often, or take an average. He would measure scheduled vs. actual ship dates. He would measure “linearity” of production.

Fundamentally, he would operate on the belief that, if only he could measure the right things, that he would get the performance he needs, in the way it should be done. “The right measurements produce the right results.”

While not universal, it is also very common for a work environment such as this one to:

  • Attach substantial performance bonuses to “hitting the numbers.”
  • Confuse this with “empowerment” – and perceive a subordinate who truly wants help to develop a good, sound plan as less capable than one who “just gets it done.” He is seen as “high maintenance.” (“Don’t come to me with problems unless you have a solution.”)
  • Look for external factors that excuse not hitting the targets. (Such as an increase in commodity prices.)
  • Take credit for hitting the targets, even when it was caused by external factors. (Such as a drop in commodity prices.)

Overall, there is no real interest in the assessment of why there even is a gap between the current value and the target (why do we need this inventory in the first place?); and there is even less interest in a plan to close the gap, or in understanding if success (or failure) was due to successful execution or just plain luck.

The higher-level leader says he “trusts his people” and as such, is disengaged, uninformed, and worse, is taking no action to develop their capabilities. He has no way to distinguish between the people who “hit the numbers” due to luck and circumstances (or are very skilled at finding external factors to blame) and the ones who apply good thinking, and carry out good plans. Because the negative effects often take time to manifest, this process can actually bias toward someone who can get good short-term results, even at the cost of long-term shareholder value.

This is no way to run a business. A lot of businesses, some of them very reputable, are run exactly this way.

So What’s The Alternative?

Shook describes a patient-yet-relentless leader who is determined to get the results he wants by developing his subordinate. He assigns a challenging task, specifies the approach (the “A3 Problem Solving Process”) then iterates through the learning process – while applying the principle of small steps. At no point does he allow the next step to proceed until the current one is done correctly.

“Do not accept, create, or pass on poor quality.”

He has a standard, and teaches to that standard.

He is skeptical and intently curious – he must be convinced that the current situation is understood.

He must be convinced that the root cause is understood.

He must be convinced that all alternative countermeasures were explored.

He must be convinced that everyone involved has been consulted.

He must be convinced that all necessary countermeasures are deployed – even ones that are unpopular.

He must be convinced that the plan is being tracked during execution, results are checked against expectations, and additional countermeasures are applied to handle any gaps.

And he must be convinced that the results came as an outcome of specific actions taken, not just luck.

In short, even though he might have been able to do it quicker by just telling his subordinate what to do, in the end, that Team Member would only know his boss’s opinion on a particular solution for a specific issue… he would not have taught how to be thorough.

The Learning Countermeasure

If we start in the same place – too much inventory, too few turns – the engaged leader starts the same way, by setting a target.

Then he asks each of his subordinates to come back to him with their plan.

By definition that plan includes details of their understanding of the situation – where the inventory is, why it is. It includes targets – where the effort will be focused, and what results are expected.

The plan includes detailed understanding of the problems (causes) which must be addressed so that the system can operate in a sustainable, stable way, at the reduced inventory levels.

It includes the actions which will be taken – who will do what by when, and the results expected from those actions. It may include other actions considered, but not taken, and why.

It includes a process to track actions, verify results, and apply additional countermeasures when there is a barrier to execution or a gap in the outcome.

The process of making the plan would largely follow the outline in Managing to Learn. The engaged leader is going to challenge the thinking at each step of the process. He is going to push until he is convinced that the Team Member has thoroughly understood – and verified – the current situation, and that the actions will close the gap to the targets.

Rather than assigning a blanket reduction target, the engaged leader might start there, but would allow the Team Members to play off each other in a form of “cap and trade.” The leader’s target needs to get hit, but different sectors may have different challenges. Blanket goals rarely are appropriate as anything but a starting point. But it is only after everyone understands their situation, and works as a team, that they could come up with a system solution that would work.

Of course then the Team Members who had to take on less ambitious targets would get that much more attention and challenge – thus pushing the team to ever higher performance.

Today’s World

Even in companies deploying “lean”, the quality of the deployment is dependent on the person in charge of that piece of the operation. When someone else rotates in, the new leader imposes his vision of how things should be done, and everything changes.

There are, in my view, two nearly universal points of failure here.

  • The company leadership had an expectation to “get lean” but, above that local level, really had no idea what it means… except in terms of performance metrics. This is often wrapped in a facade of “management support.” Thus, there is no expectation that an incoming leader do things in any particular way. (What is your process to “on board” a new leader prior to just turning him loose with your profits and losses?)
  • The outgoing leader may have done the right things in the wrong way – by directing what was to be done vs. guiding people through the process of true understanding.

Fixing this requires the same thinking and the same process as addressing any other problem. Just trying to impose a standard on things like production boards isn’t going to work. The issue is in the thinking, not in the tools.


You get what you measure, but don’t be surprised if people are ingenious in destructive ways in how they get there.

You can’t force a solution by adding even more metrics.

Only by knowing what you did (the process) will you know why you got the results you achieved (or did not achieve). This is a process of prediction, and is the only way people learn.

Learning takes practice. Practice requires humility and a mentor or teacher who can see and correct.

Blame vs. Accountability

Steve left a question on The Whiteboard that everyone thinks, but almost no one asks.

Is there a point at which the “blame game” is appropriate? You once mentioned the “5 who’s” I’m thinking that at some point this has to be processed. Like getting the right people on the bus (or off it). Or in cases of accountability.

This subject, of course, opens up an entire line of complex discussion. We are dealing with psychology and sociology here, not mechanical or industrial engineering.

The question is very general. And like most "big problems" I don’t think it is solvable at this level. Rather, the general problem is a symptom of small problems that are chronically not addressed. In simple terms, the answer is "it depends" and "it is a case-by-case issue."

My first frame of reference is the post just before this one – "No blame means no excuses." There are a couple of other related gems in Managing to Learn that I will be calling out in subsequent posts here.

But right now, I want to go back to 1944 and dig out the cheat pocket card that is part of the TWI Job Relations course.

At the top the card says


(In this context, it means a people problem.)

Right underneath that are the words everybody skips over:


So let’s think about that a minute. Here is a person whose performance or behavior is something you find incompatible with the goals of the organization. But have you thought past your emotional response and really looked at, first, what the goals of the organization are in this context? If this problem is solved what outcome do you want?

Sometimes I hear "I want the person out of the organization."

OK. But that is a countermeasure, not an objective. What is the objective of the organization?

In the 1944 TWI context, it was generally to "help production." Certainly that was the main priority. But whatever your objective is, it is critical to understand it and I would suggest you write it down.

Then the card says:


In modern terms, this would translate to "Thoroughly understand the current situation." The odds are you have only second-hand information and complaints at this point. At best, you have only results of some underlying issue. The card says to "review the record" – what is the history here? Is this an ongoing issue that has a long history? Or is it a recent thing?

It says "Find out what rules and customs apply." Now – please remember that these words were written in a different era. One generation (half a generation) earlier, the USA had been a primarily agrarian economy with a growing manufacturing sector. Many manufacturing operations had more informal customs than actual rules. Many of those customs dictated the way people were expected to behave. Understanding, not just the rules, but the actual expectations of supervisors, peers, and the culture itself gives you the context that this person was working in.

In a world class organization, I would ask "What is the standard?" What is the expectation in this circumstance? What should be happening? If you are not crystal clear about that, then you have a case of vague expectations. Want to know the source of the problem? Look in the mirror.

The card goes on to advise:

"Talk with individuals concerned" and "Get opinions and feelings"

Go and see for yourself. Genchi genbutsu.

Do not rely on reports of others. That information is inherently biased.

If you start off with a couple of assumptions, your understanding can be much deeper.

  • This person is well meaning, and acting in his best understanding of what you expect.
  • This person is acting in a reasonable manner within the context he has around him.

These assumptions drive you to understand how expectations are interpreted, how priorities are understood, and the daily, working context of "normal" and "reasonable" within the work environment.

It is critical to understand this simple truth about all organizations: The written rules are over ridden by the daily working culture.

At the end, the card issues a caution:

"Be sure you have the whole story."

Once you understand the current situation, the next step on the card is:


"Fit the facts together"

"Consider their bearing on each other."

This is final reflection on the big picture and the context this person is operating in. What conflicts does he experience? How is he resolving them? Asking those questions in that way, again, frames the problem in terms of a person acting in a reasonable way to resolve conflicting priorities (work and personal) in the best way he can. If that priority conflict turns out to be a real or perceived difference between policies and expectations, that is your problem, not his.

Consider what message is sent by those two statements:"We never compromise safety for production." and "We need to do whatever it takes to get this done today."

Consider the actual consequences if all unsafe work in your operation halted. Now, in that light, consider the pressures this person might have been under when he got "written up" for a near-miss on a forktruck – as he was driving down a cluttered transportation aisle with a load that blocked his view that someone was impatiently calling him about.

The JR card goes on into executing your action plan, and then CHECK RESULTS.

The last question on it is:


Did your countermeasure address the problem?

This was all pretty radical stuff in 1944. Unfortunately it is still pretty radical in a lot of places.

But – at the end of the game, it comes down to objectively considering what you are trying to accomplish; understanding the entire story; developing and applying countermeasures; and seeing if they work. Then lather, rinse, repeat.

As an adjunct to this, Jim left a comment after the book review of Managing to Learn where he reflected that a lot of his (lean manager) job seems to be psychology. He is right – but that is the job of any manager whose ultimate success is dependent on how well his people perform. Understanding what really motivates people vs. what you want to motivate them is a critical first step to deal with the world as it really is.

So, back to the original question.

Steve used an expression "getting the right people on the bus (or off it)." I first encountered this in Jim Collins‘ book Good to Great. He refers to a corporate transformation where it is important to have the right team, and have the players in the right positions. (The right people on the bus, and those people in the right seats). Before you decide to kick someone off the bus, it is critical to first understand if s/he is in the right seat; to understand if the past is the result of circumstances or true failure to perform. So unless (until) you are truly certain of what you expect, you are in no position to judge whether someone is, or is not, meeting expectations.

Here is how I look at it. If someone has to be let go, it is because I:

Failed to hire the right person.

Failed to make my expectations clear enough.

Failed to adequately assess or correct the reasons for not meeting those expectations.

And in the end, I had to concede that I had failed, not only this person, but my own objectives.

Are we going to get it right every time? Of course not. But "finally getting him out of here" should be reflected upon, not as a success, but as a desperate last resort when everything else has failed.


No one has the resources to save people who are bent on destroying themselves or those around them.  Fortunately those people are actually few and far between. It is totally unfair (and not in your interest) to structure your operation as though anyone could be one of these people.

And finally, each of us is responsible for cutting our own path in the world. If I don’t like the results I am getting, I must acknowledge that those are results are the cumulative effect of every choice I have made up to this point. I may not get the results I want, but I get the results I have chosen.

No Blame Requires No Excuses

This little gem is buried on page 54 of John Shook’s new book Managing to Learn, recently published by the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Although it is almost just a passing thought in the overall context, it really gets to the core of a people-supporting culture.

To me, the concept of “No blame requires no excuses” means that the organization has created a culture where excuses are not necessary.

Think about this: What is the purpose of an excuse but an attempt to shift blame from a person to something that person could not control.

So what would it take to remove the need to do this?

First of all, it requires an organizational culture where it is safe to accept responsibility. At that point, excuses are no longer required for survival. Then, and only then, can the team start to deal with the facts as they truly are, rather first working to spin them in a way that is acceptable.

Managing To Learn (the book) – my first impressions

Managing to Learn bookManaging to Learn by John Shook is the latest in the classic series of books published by the Lean Enterprise Institute.

It is subtitled “Using the A3 management process to solve problems, gain agreement, mentor, and lead” and that pretty well sums it up.

Like many of the previous LEI books, it is built around a straightforward working example as a vehicle to demonstrate the basic principles. As such, it shares all of the strengths and shortcomings of its predecessors.

In my admittedly limited experience, I have seen a couple of companies try to embrace similar processes without real success. The main issue has been that the process quickly became “filling out a form.” Soon the form itself became (if you will pardon the term) a pro-forma exercise. Leadership did not directly engage in the process; and no one challenged a shortcut, jumping to a pet solution, or verified actual results (much less predicted them). Frankly, in these cases, it was either taught badly from the beginning, or (probably worse) the fad spread more quickly than the organization could learn how to do it well.

I must admit that with the recent flood of books and articles about the “A3” as the management and problem solving tool of lean, that we will see a macro- case of the same though throughout industry.

Managing to Learn tries to address this by devoting most of its emphasis on how the leader teaches by guiding and mentoring a team member through the problem solving process. The reader learns the process by following along with this experience, vs. just being told what to put in each block of the paper.

To illustrate this in action, the narrative is written in two tracks. One column describes the story from the problem solver’s viewpoint as he is guided through the process. He jumps to a conclusion, is pulled away from it, and gently but firmly directed through the process of truly understanding the situation; the underlying causes; developing possible countermeasures and implementing them.

Running parallel to that is another column which describes the thoughts of his teacher / manager.

Personally, found this difficult to follow and would prefer a linear narrative. I am perfectly fine with text that intersperses the thoughts and viewpoints of the characters with the shared actions. But given this alternative choice of format, I would have found it a lot easier to track if there had been clear synchronization points between the two story lines. I found myself flipping back and forth between pages, where sentences break from one page to the next in one column, but not the other, and it was difficult to tell at what point I was losing pace with the other column.

To be clear, Shook says in the introduction that the reader can read both at once (as I attempted to do), read one, then the other, or any other way that works. I tried, without personal success, to turn it into a linear narrative by reading a bit of one, then the other.

The presentation format not withstanding, Shook drives home a few crucially important points about this process.

  • It is not about filling out the form. It is a thought process. Trying to impose a structured form inevitably drives people’s focus toward filling out the form “correctly” rather than solving the problem with good thinking.
  • He emphasizes the leadership aspect of true problem solving. The leader / teacher may even have a good idea what the problem and solution are, but does not simply direct actions. Instead, the leader guides his team member through the process of discovering the situation for himself. This gets the problem solved, but also develops the people in the organization.

There are also a few real gems buried in the text – a few words, or a phrase in a paragraph on a page – that deserve to have attention called out to them. I am going to address those in separate posts over the next few days.

In the end this book can provide a glimpse of a future state for leadership in a true learning and problem solving culture. But if I were asked if the message is driven home in a way that passes the “sticky test” then I have to say, no. I wish it did, we need this kind of thinking throughout industry and the public and government sectors.

Thus, while this book is very worthwhile reading for the engaged practitioner to add to his insight and skill set, it is not a book I would give someone who was not otherwise enlightened and expect that he would have a major shift in his approach as a result of reading it.

The bottom line: If you are reading this in my site, you will probably find this book worthwhile, but don’t expect that having everyone read it will cause a change in the way your organization thinks and learns.

Dealing With High Turnover

Jim left a great post on The Whiteboard way too long ago.

His problems seem to sum up to these statements:

Every valve is hand made one by one in batches through several processes.

…about a 10% turnover rate…Consequently we are always training new people…the supervisor needs to make sure the worker understands the job

My inclination is to somehow explain to the owners how their employee turnover rate is hurting their production and quality.

He titled his post  Hitting The Moving Train which seems appropriate on a number of levels.

Keeping in mind that I have not done my own "go and see" so I don’t have facts from the ground, only what is reported, a couple of immediate things come to mind. Other readers (especially the couple of dozen of you who never leave comments!), feel free to chime in here.

Short term: Stop the batching. Or, more specifically, flow the batches. The key point here is that just because you run batches doesn’t mean you can’t run one-piece-flow. (Pardon the double negative.)

What does that look like here? For each batch of valves, understand all of the assembly operations, set up an ad-hoc flow line that sequences all of the steps, then run them all through.

This does a couple of things, first and foremost, it gets them off the shop floor and shipped a hell of a lot quicker because now they are DONE. The downside is the supervisor needs to teach more than one person his particular sequence steps, but it eliminates all of the routing, traveler paperwork, tracking, prioritizing, and other stuff associated with having those 50 incomplete valves sitting out there. Scheduling becomes "Which jobs are we going to set up and assemble today?"

What about the parts? Don’t start assembling until you have all of the parts.

"Wait a minute, what about just-in-time?" One thing at a time. Let’s not launch a job until we have the capacity and capability of actually doing it for now.

Next, (Intermediate Term): is make the supervisor’s job a bit easier. I am assuming that, since he is training the workers, that he understands the tasks. But does he have formal training on how to break down work into steps and instruct in a way that someone remembers how to do it? Rather than reading a book about it, I would strongly suggest contacting the TWI Institute and getting, first, a handle on Job Instruction. This is, essentially, standard work on how to break down a job and teach someone to do it. The method has been taught unchanged since mid-1944. Not surprisingly, it is bread-and-butter at Toyota… and their material is pretty much verbatim from the 1944 material.. and it is the origin of standard work as we know it.

As jobs are broken down, the inherently critical tasks should emerge. These are the things which must be done a certain way or the thing just won’t go together (bad) or will go together, but won’t work (very, very bad). Those key points are where to start instituting mistake-proofing, successive checks, etc. This will start driving toward stomping out the quality issues.

For each quality issue that comes back to bite, take the time to really understand how it was even possible to make that mistake, and focus a problem solving effort on that key point to (1) incorporate it into the teaching and (2) mistake-proof and successive-check that particular attribute. Defects discovered in the plant are bad enough. Defects discovered by your customers are another story. Do what you must to keep the defects from escaping, then work on preventing them. Don’t cut out inspection just because it is muda.. unless you are 110% certain that your process is totally robust, and any problem that does occur will be caught and corrected immediately. Anyone who thinks Toyota "doesn’t do inspection" has never seen the last 60 or so positions on their assembly line… nor have they seen the checks that are continuously being made during assembly.

And finally – the turnover issue. A couple of things come to mind. First, with the right attitude and approach, the things described above can make this a lot more interesting place to work… especially if the Team Members are involved in finding the solutions to escaping quality issues, etc.

The same goes if supervisors continue to hone their leadership skills. Employee turnover is typically caused as much by the relationship with the first line supervisor and working conditions in general as it is by wages, etc. Southwest Airlines would not exist were that not true. Neither would a couple of other companies I can think of. Go look at "The 100 Best Places to Work" and see that relatively few of them cite "the highest pay and best benefits in the area." This isn’t to say that they do not offer fair, competitive compensation. But compensation, in general, is a relatively poor indicator of job satisfaction. Far more important is a daily demonstration that someone cares and is committed to the Team Member’s success.

If they really like TWI Job Instruction, they might be attracted to Job Relations – standard work for supervisors (first line leaders) for people issues. The TWI Institute has also just launched a new program called Job Safety. This isn’t one of the original TWI classes, but it was put together by experts I know and trust, and from what I have read, it follows the same reliable method format.

With all of that, perhaps the owners will be convinced that a competitive compensation program is a way to say "Thank you" to a great team that busts their butts to keep the customers happy.

Who’s Your Coach?

In a few weeks, the best athletes in the world will assemble in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Just being there means these individuals are performing at a level that the rest of us can only watch and appreciate.

Each of these world-class top performers has a coach.

Ironically, their coaches are not capable of performing at the same level as the athletes themselves. If they could, they would be competing, not coaching.

To be sure, some of the coaches are former world-class athletes. But most of them are “just” world class coaches. They have the skill to watch the athlete perform, to compare what they observe against a standard of perfection and to see very subtle things which might make a difference in the athlete’s performance.

World class athletes all know they only perform at a world class level because they have world class coaches. It is the coach who takes them from “very good” to “Olympic contender.”

A coaches credibility is based on his ability to observe and teach. His success is built on the success of the people he coaches.

For business leaders:
Do you believe you can perform at a world-class level on your own?
Is your insight into your own performance good enough to pick up nuance and detail that could make a huge difference?
Do you believe that, because you have more experience, that no one below your level could teach you anything?
Do you believe that, because you have been successful, only someone who has had more personal success could teach you anything?
Do you measure “competence” by hierarchy level?

Who is your coach?