I recently did an “Introduction to Toyota Kata” session for Kata School Cascadia. The intent is to give an overview of my interpretation of the background, and how Toyota Kata fits into, and augments, your Continuous Improvement effort.
Here is a direct URL in case you can’t see the embed on your phone or pad: https://videopress.com/v/4vWvDZRe
In this presentation I go over what I mean when I say “culture” and then briefly discuss a “continuous improvement culture.” Then introduce the “why” of Toyota Kata as a way to start to nudge the culture in the direction we want it to go.
Finally I overview the structure of the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata, then answer a couple of questions.
The email in question was sent by the Executive Director of Operations of Apple Central LLC, a major franchisee of Applebees restaurants. He was describing the “opportunity” presented by higher gas prices, increasing prices and increased cost pressure on smaller restaurants. Quoting a couple of key lines:
“The advantage [of higher gas prices] has for us is that it will increase application flow and has the potential to lower our average wage”
“Any increase in gas price cuts into [our employees] disposable income […] that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”
Now, to his credit, after saying “besides hiring employees in at lower wages to decrease our labor cost” he closes with the advice to “Do the things to make sure you are the employer of choice” But this means “Get schedules completed early so they can plan their other jobs around yours.” though he does close with “have the culture and environment that will attract people.”
According to reports in the local newspaper, the manager in the Lawrenceville, Kansas Applebee’s was so angered by the content and tone of this message that he made copies of the email, distributed it to the employees, and he and two other managers quit on the spot in protest forcing the store to close for at least a day. One of those copies ended up being scanned and uploaded.
Within an hour of the posting on Reddit, the thread was picked up on Twitter by Rob Gill. There were tens of thousands of forwards, retweets, views.
That same day the Lawrence Journal-World, the local paper, picked up the story:
There are more. Many more. Just search for “Wayne Pankratz” email and you will turn up lots of hits.
OK – so what can we learn here?
I didn’t write about this just to pile on to the story. The mainstream business press has done more than I can ever do. Rather, I want to explore some of the deeper implications, not just for Applebee’s and Apple Central LLC, but for our own organizations.
First the obvious. This was a potential public relations disaster. There was a lot of damage to be sure. At the same time, the story was quickly buried by the ongoing news about the Ukrainians’ fight for their very existence as a nation, and juicier national political stories coming out of Washington D.C. Had this been a slow news period, this story is the type that can get legs under it and reverberate for weeks. That didn’t happen in this case.
Once the story hit the mainstream press, we had P.R. responses like:
Kevin Carroll, COO of Applebee’s: “This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. This issue is being addressed internally by the franchisee who employs this individual and who owns and operates the restaurants in this market. Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family.”
And from Apple Central LLC, the company where the email originated: “The main message here is that this in absolutely no way, shape, or form speaks to our policies or our culture, or anything like that with our brand.”
And ultimately Mr. Pankratz lost his job. End of story, a rogue employee, a bad apple (pardon the pun) if you will. Maybe.
Still, I have some questions – and that is all they are, just questions. I know nothing about the culture of Apple Central LLC, the company that owns the franchises where the email originated.
But the email was written on March 9. This story broke two weeks later, and the response was a few days after that – once reporters started calling the company.
What happened in those two weeks?
There is a hint in the email itself. Or more specifically the forwarding chain. Someone in the store in Springfield (Springfield-8289) responds to the original email: “Great message Sir!” and right away we see that maybe this message isn’t so rogue.
It is then forwarded again by a redacted user with the message: “Words of wisdom from wayne!!!”
It was sent to [redacted] Distribution List – that implies a lot of people saw it. It was sent in the evening of March 9. What happened on March 10th? Those are the actions that would tell us if this was a break from the way business is normally done.
The Questions for Everyone
The more subtle story seems to be about the difference between espoused vs. actual values.
Simply, it is the internally triggered response, not the response to outside inquiries, that reflects the actual values of this company.
Was there any effort at all to repair the employee relationships that were damaged? Is there evidence that anyone objected, retracted, or attempted internal damage control with the employees who saw the message before it blew up in online in the press?
Would this story have even happened if someone from Apple Central LLC immediately got in touch with everyone on the distribution list and even visited the Lawrenceville restaurant in person to make amends?
In the face of this kind of blowback, wouldn’t that be something a company would highlight in press releases? None of the press releases or statements said anything about efforts to repair the damaged relationships with employees. None of them said anything about actions being taken immediately. Simply put, there isn’t any evidence of alarms about breaking with the policies, culture or brand until reporters start asking about it two weeks later.
Nor is there any evidence that the individuals who enthusiastically forwarded the message along were acting outside of the cultural bounds of the company.
Quite the opposite.
What Problem Were They Trying to Solve?
Based on all indications it seems this was managed as apublic relations problem. It was not managed as a culture problem.
All of the messaging says “Our culture is fine.” Just this guy, who happens to have the title Executive Director of Operations, but we are told he doesn’t make hiring policy.
A Question for You
Let’s even take email out of it. If someone made this case in your company’s leadership meeting, what would the response be from around the table?
Would anyone push back? Would anyone say “Wait, we don’t talk about our people that way.” “We don’t look to trap them in the job here.” “No! That isn’t who we are!”
Maybe there would be an awkward silence until someone changed the subject, but nothing else said.
Or would head nod in tacit agreement, good point, next topic?
Or would there be “Great point!” with nods and smiles?
Or… would there be a discussion about actual ways to take advantage of this so-called opportunity?
Your leadership values are not what is printed on the posters in your hallways. Nor are they what your public relations people tell the reporters when there is an adverse story.
Your leadership values are reflected in what you do, what you say, how you respond day-in and day-out.
If you want to know your values, just listen to what people, especially those in authority, say when they “can talk freely.” Listen to things people say that get no pushback or objection. Those are the values that are driving policy and decisions.
Listen to yourselves. Listen to your values. Own them. If the public face is different from everyday discussions ask yourselves why, especially if the word “integrity” shows up anywhere in your values statement.
A few years ago I was working with a company that was ramping up a complex highly-automated production process.
A group of technicians had an idea for an improvement. The nature of what they were trying to improve, or their idea is irrelevant here.
They brought their idea to the plant manager, carefully explained it, and then a bit of awesomeness happened.
Instead of being critical or asking a lot of leading “What about…?” questions, he borrowed and paraphrased a question from David Marquet:
“What things do you think might concern me about this?”
The technicians were stumped. So the plant manager then said “That’s OK, how about getting back to me tomorrow with what you think?”
The next day the technicians had revised their idea to deal with potential problems the plant manager hadn’t even thought of. Which makes sense because they knew a lot more about how things worked than he did.
By asking that question he pushed them to think of the higher level systems implications, to think like the plant manager who has customers and constituents he has to please above and beyond the scope of the shop floor itself.
How do you respond when someone presents an idea? Do you critique it? Do you try to come up with scenarios that break it? Or do you challenge people to go back and think a little more deeply about the what if’s?
Many years ago I wrote an article for SME called The Essence of Jidoka. In that article I described a four step process designed to improve productivity and drive continuous improvement. Since then these four steps have been picked up and incorporated into the training materials of many consultants, used to write the Wikipedia article on jidoka (which I most assuredly did not author), and even found their way into some academic papers. Sometimes with attribution back to my article, may times without.
In that article, “jidoka” was described as a four step process:
Detect a problem.
Fix or correct the problem.
Find the root cause and implement a permanent countermeasure.
But I would like to take a hard look at the first step: Detect the problem. This is where, I believe, most organizations actually fall down. And in doing so, they also fall down on respect for people.
The key question is: “What do you consider a problem?”
Most organizations do not see a problem until the symptoms are bad enough that they are compelled to do something about it. This means people have been struggling with issues for some time already. The machine isn’t reliably producing good parts. Or someone is having to rework material. Or the supplies cabinet is always short, and the nurses have to launch a safari to find what they need.
Contrast this with a company like Toyota. Every Toyota-trained leader I have ever dealt with is very consistent. A problem is any deviation from the standard. More importantly, a deviation from the standard (1) forces people to improvise and (2) is an opportunity to learn.
Spear’s research concluded there were four tacit rules for how activities, information connections, flow paths, and improvements were designed and executed in Toyota operations. Each of those rules describes:
Any deviation from the standard triggers some kind of alert that gets someone’s attention. And whose attention is explicitly defined – That is a standard as well.
As I look at a work area, I often see a lot of 5S type of activity. Things and their intended locations are marked and labeled. These are standards. They establish what should be where. But the question to ask is “What happens if something is out of place?”
That is a deviation from the standard. It is a problem.
Fix or Correct (put it back – restore the standard condition)
Investigate the root cause
“What’s going on with the air wrench today?”
“Actually it is an extra one.”
“Really? Where did it come from?”
“I borrowed it from the Team Member in work zone 3.”
“Ah, OK. Why did you need his?”
“The regular one isn’t working.”
“Hey – thanks for letting me know. I’ll get it to maintenance.”
“Did you tell anyone about the problem before now?”
“No, I just borrowed the wrench. I just needed to get this job done, then forgot. It’s no big deal, it’s easier to just borrow Scott’s wrench.”
And in that exchange, what have you discovered about your daily management system by simply being curious about a trivial deviation from a 5S standard?
Is this the Team Member’s fault?
Probably not. What is your standard? What is he supposed to do if the wrench stops working? Is there an escalation process and a response for this kind of small stoppage? Or are your Team Members just expected to find a way to work through the issue? Which of those responses is more respectful of the Team Member who spends her time trying to create value for you?
Often times there is no standard.
But without a standard you have no way to tell if there is a problem (other than a feeling that something isn’t right). And if you are sure there is a problem, without a standard you can’t really define what “fixed” is.
So start with defining the standard. First, go back to Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. You can get an idea of the kinds of things you should standardize.
As you think of standards, consider a standard for your standard:
Express it from the viewpoint of the process customer.
Define it in a way that can be verified as “met” or “not met.” No gray zones. You can quantify the magnitude of a problem, but not whether you have one.
There is a visual or other control tells the appropriate person, right away, if there is a deviation from your standard?
Is there a standard that triggers a response to clear the problem?
5S is nothing more than the first step of setting standards. Many people say to start there, but don’t say why. The point is to practice setting standards and holding them. Taiichi Ohno is quoted as saying:
“If there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.”
Any deviation from the standard is a problem.
Your choice, as a leader, is how to handle that problem.
After yesterday’s post about trucks crashing into the famous 11foot8 bridge and mistake proofing, I got the feeling I should drive home my key point that the problem isn’t with the driver, it is with the environment.
As of this writing, Jürgen has recorded 154 crashes of overheight vehicles into the bridge.
And I’ll put even money that if all of the data were known, this process would pass any test for statistical control and we are getting what we should expect from a stable system. It might not be what we want, but it is what we should expect. (All images are copyright Jürgen Henn, 11foot8.com)
So addressing the individual incidents probably isn’t a solution. In any case, it is unlikely that any driver will repeat the mistake.* For the TWI folks – this isn’t really a Job Relations type of problem. It might feel like it is, but it isn’t.
In the Factory
I was working with a company with a similar problem. Their inspectors kept missing defects. The response was often to say “I don’t see how she could have missed that!” and even write them up for failure to do something that wasn’t particularly well specified.
But the fact on the ground was, like the bridge, the misses weren’t confined to any particular individuals, any particular shift, any particular anything. People missed things all of the time because the expectations greatly exceeded the limitations of what humans can do for 12 hours (or even one hour). It isn’t an inspection problem. (The reliance on inspection vs. upstream controls is another topic for another day.)
People Work Within a System
It is all too easy to fall into the “bad apple” fallacy and seek out someone who was negligent. It feels good, like we did something about the problem. But the problem will happen again, with someone else. Then I hear frustrated managers start to make disparaging comments about their entire workforce that “doesn’t care” about quality.
I challenged a quality manager to do that inspection job for two hours – not even a complete shift – under the watchful eye of the inspector whose job he was trying to do. Funny – he was a lot slower to assign blame after that experience. He couldn’t keep up.
Deming was pretty clear about the ineffectiveness of exhortation as a way to get better performance. “Be more careful!” might well work for one individual for a short time. “Making an example of someone” might well work for a group for a short time. But there are norms, and the system will return to those norms very quickly. There are simple limits to what humans can focus on and for how long.
The Bridge is a Metaphor
To be clear, the bridge represents a working system, but it is different than what we would find in a company. This is public infrastructure, and the truck drivers that get featured on the videos are not part of a single organization.
This means that you have more control than the city engineers in Durham do. You can establish procedures, ask questions, train people, have them practice, alert them to the Gregson Street Bridge on their route. You can make sure your navigation system routes your trucks around the low bridges. You can support your people so they are less likely to even end up in the situation. All of these are system changes – and that is what it will take to change the outcome.
Change the System: Raising the Bridge
In late 2019 the city of Durham, in coordination with the railroad who owns the bridge, did actually raise the bridge by 8 inches. It is now 11 feet 16 inches (3.76m).
And that is a legitimate approach. Rather than trying to create infallible humans, what can we do to make the system less vulnerable to fallible humans.
While that likely reduced the number of trucks that hit the bridge…
*Caveat: There is one video where a truck seems to avoid the bridge, then circle back around and hit it. And another video where a truck that hit this bridge then proceeded to run into another low bridge with the damaged truck.
Besides being a great source of schadenfreude, Jürgen Henn’s website, 11foot8.com offers some great insight in the difficulty of effective mistake-proofing.
The clearance between the road and the railroad bridge at 201 Gregson Street in Durham, North Carolina is officially 11 feet 8 inches (3.55 meters).
A typical rental box truck is about 12 feet high (3.65 meters).
The more astute of you may have noticed the “OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN” sign just above the smashed truck.
Well before the truck approaches the intersection, it passes under a height sensor. If the vehicle is overheight, the OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN sign comes on and starts to flash, and the traffic lights turn red.
While this effort did mitigate the problem, obviously there are drivers who simply do not notice. Lots of them. Jürgen has cameras trained on the intersection and captures over a dozen crashes in a typical year. As a result, his website has attracted international attention. See the short documentary here: http://11foot8.com/about/the-documentary/
Familiar Tasks = “In the Zone”
The human brain is an amazing thing. It also works by deceiving us. It creates the illusion of complete awareness of the things around us when, in reality, we are simply aware of a model our brains have constructed of what we perceive to be there.
It is also an amazing engine at engaging actions based on pattern matching. For example –
In sessions I facilitate, I routinely ask people if they can recall a time when they arrived home after work but realized they didn’t remember driving the route. Nearly every hand in the room goes up. That is pretty amazing because driving is an incredibly complex task. But, assuming you get a license in your mid-teens, by the time you are in your early 20s, most people don’t give it much thought. (There is a reason your insurance rates drop when you turn 25.)
It has become a hard-wired neural pattern, a series of habits, a programmed set of responses that are operating below below the conscious and deliberate thinking part of the brain. This is really good because this process is much faster and more responsive than the alternative. Think about how it felt to be driving when you were just learning – or how it feels to be doing anything new when you are just learning.
The downside to this amazing programming is that things that don’t jar us into consciousness often go unnoticed.
And the more familiar, the more expert, we are with the task at hand, the more likely this will happen.
Levels of Mistake Proofing
I like to talk about three levels of mistake-proofing. Four actually, if you count Zero as a level.
Level 0 – the task must be performed correctly from memory.
Level 1 – there is a discrete task of checking build into the job.
Level 2 – there is an active indication when a mistake is about to be made (or has just been made and there is still time to correct without consequences).
Level 3 – there is active prevention that gets in the way of making the mistake.
The OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN sign is a Level 2. The driver has already passed signs informing him of the bridge clearance about 100m before the bridge.
The height sensors are on the poles just past the speed limit signs.
Then in the next block, there is another sign telling the driver to turn:
And finally the light changes and the OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN sign illuminates.
And still they miss it.
(Direct YouTube link for the email readers: https://youtu.be/I0BJmC6u7MU)
To be clear, the vast majority of truck drivers don’t hit the bridge. But over a dozen a year do. (There were more before the flashing sign was put in.)
“Pay Attention!” = Fundamental Attribution Error
As we watch Jürgen’s videos it is easy to assign character attributes to the drivers who hit the bridge. If only they were better drivers. (The vast majority people who are asked to rate their driving skill will say they are “above average” by the way. Think about that.)
But it is human nature to get lulled into a bit of complacency when engaging a routine task- and driving is a routine task in spite of the complexity.
Now – think about the people in your organization. How many opportunities to they have to make a mistake every day… every hour… in the course of their work? How many of those possible mistakes have serious or expensive consequences?
They are experts at what they do. And they don’t make many mistakes. And they usually catch themselves before there is a problem. But the Law of Large Numbers says “Given enough opportunities, the unlikely is inevitable.”
Can anyone reading this honestly say they have never inadvertently run a stop sign? Yet accidents rarely occur. Now and then there is some panic braking, and rarely there is a collision.
Yet it is really easy to single out the person who:
Performs the work the same way, in the same conditions as everyone else.
Makes the same mistakes, just as often, as everyone else.
Just like everyone else, usually they are caught in time, or other conditions aren’t present for a bad outcome.
But this time everything lined up and BANG – the defective product got missed, or the leak wasn’t noticed before the sump went dry.
Then that person gets singled out for “not following procedure” when nobody follows procedure.
Job Instruction “Key Points” = Opportunity
In a Job Breakdown for TWI Job Instruction we assign a “Key Point” as something the learner must remember specifically because it:
Might result in a hazard – injure the worker or someone else.
“Make or break the job” – if something isn’t done a specific way, the task fails.
Is a “knack” or technique that makes it easier to do.
Those first two are red flags. You are asking your team member to memorize critical to safety and critical to quality tasks. My challenge: How many of those key points can you “mistake proof” out of the job breakdown?
Finally – rather than the sensors and flashing lit signs, there is this approach from “somewhere on the Internet.”
That is awesome because even if the driver doesn’t see the sign, the BANG! may get his attention in time for it to register and stop. In the Durham, NC example above, apparently this wouldn’t work because there are legitimate reasons for trucks to come down the street up to the intersection just before the bridge. After that, it is really too late unless the driver is already aware that he has to turn.
Yes – the title isn’t a typo. This goes back to KataCon 4 in Atlanta. Though I had attended all of them, this was the first time I actually spoke at one. My task was to follow Rich Sheridan and share why I thought his message was a powerful one for an audience of Kata Geeks even if he wasn’t specifically talking about Toyota Kata in his company.
As an experiment, I took the sound recording from my talk and synchronized it with the slide deck. (That is harder that it sounds, by the way.) As another experiment I am sharing it via hosting on WordPress (the back-end of this site) rather than YouTube or a similar host. It is a little over 13 minutes long, and there is another experiment below it.
We are all being pushed into the zone beyond our knowledge base right now – having to rapidly adapt and adjust to different ways of working together.
This morning Craig Stritar forwarded a cool little video to me from Simon Sinek’s YouTube channel. In it Steve Shedletzky, a member of Simon’s team, introduces their weekly huddle – a way that this team, which has been working remotely for years, maintains their connection to one another.
One of the keys here is that this meeting is not a conversation about the business at hand. There are other meetings for that. This one is intended to strengthen the social bonds of the group.
They dedicate 75 minutes a week to this task. The video is a condensed version to give us a taste of their structure.
And it is structure that makes it work. It is structure that makes sure no individual dominates the conversation, and structure that keeps it from becoming the kind of wide-ranging conversation that happens over beer and pizza.
It is structure that gives them the freedom to hear and be heard.
This is the first in series of posts I am drafting about what I saw, heard, learned at KataCon6 in Austin.
I was originally writing this up in huge chunks, maybe two posts. But when I bounced the “Part 1” draft off Craig Stritar, I got some good advice – there are a lot of topics here, and it might be more useful to break these up into smaller pieces, so that is what I am doing.
My intent is to generate discussion – so I would like to explicitly invite comments, questions and especially take-aways from others. In other words – let’s continue the great conversations that were taking place in Austin.
Day -1 and Day 0
Lean Frontiers traditionally runs the TWI Summit and KataCon back-to-back in the same week, alternating which comes first. This year the TWI Summit was Monday and Tuesday, and KataCon was officially Thursday and Friday.
Both conferences, though, have semi-formal activities and get-togethers prior to the first official day. Since there are things going on Wednesday, some people begin to arrive Tuesday evening. And because I was already on site from the TWI Summit, Tuesday evening is really when things got started for me.
Something I have observed in the past is that each KataCon seems to take on an informal theme of its own – a common thread or feeling that is established more by the participants than the presenters. Where the first KataCon was the excited buzz of a community coming together for the first time, this one seemed to me to be like a reunion. To be clear – it was a welcoming reunion. Unlike other conferences I have attended, there is nothing “clique-ish” about this one.
With that reunion theme, I want to give a shout out to Beth Carrington. She is a vital member in the fabric of this community and this is the first KataCon she has missed. I think I can speak for all of the regulars when I say “we missed you.” Those who do not know you still felt your presence and influence through your impact on the rest of us.
The other thing (for me) that was cool was just how much of the conversation took place after hours in the hotel lobby bar. There were long-time regulars catching up, and there were first-timers and newbies getting rich tutorials and insights from the veterans. That is why I titled this section starting with day “-1.” Those conversations were happening on Tuesday afternoon and evening as people started to arrive.
This is a community of sharing. Many of us are consultants and nominally competitors in an increasingly crowded market. Yet nothing was held back. We build on each other’s stuff, and pretty much everyone shares what they are thinking with everyone else. That’s pretty cool in my estimation.
The Kata Geek Meetup
The Kata Geek Meetup started at the first KataCon. At the time it was an informal mailing list invitation to attend a get-together before the conference started. Everyone got a “Kata Geek” button to wear with the idea that the other conference participants could identify those with a bit more experience under their belt if they wanted to ask questions, etc. The event wasn’t publicized on the conference agenda.
Over the years this has morphed into a mini-preconference that is open to all who can attend. People share brief presentations – maybe something they want to try out for an audience, maybe a rhetorical question, maybe a “what we are learning.” The pacing is much more flexible than the actual conference, and there is time for lively discussion and Q&A. Sometimes tough, challenging questions get asked – though always in the spirit of curiosity rather than trying to one-up anyone.
As I get into the actual content, I want to clarify my purpose in writing what I do. When I listen to presentations, I am more likely to take down notes of what thoughts or insights I take away than the actual content. These things are often a fusion of key points the presenter is making, or the way they are saying something, and my own paradigms and listening framework. That is what I am writing about here. I am not making any attempt to “cover” the presentations as a reporter or reviewer would or be complete in mentioning everything that was said.
PLEASE contribute in comments if something I didn’t mention resonated with you, or something written here sparked another thought for you.
Dorsey Sherman made a simple point: All coaching is not the same. It depends on your intention (as a coach).
Thinking about it a bit, the classic TWI Job Relations is coaching – usually (in its original form) to fix or change behavior in some way. TWI Job Instruction is coaching – in this case to teach / coach for skill. At a deeper level, the classes themselves are designed to give novice coaches a structure they can practice.
The Improvement Kata framework itself is a pretty universal structure that I can pour a lot of different intentions into and test ideas that I think will move me in a particular direction. I think all coaching is a process of exploring and experimentation simply for the fact that we are dealing with other people. We may begin with assumptions about what they think, know, feel but if we don’t take deliberate steps to test those assumptions we are just guessing in the dark.
Hugh is a friend from neighboring beautiful British Columbia. I recall telling an audience in British Columbia that Canada represents that nice couple living quietly in an apartment over a rowdy biker bar. 😉
A couple of take-aways I noted down as Hugh was speaking:
The storyboard represents a picture of the learner’s mindset – it is like an MRI.
Correction: Hugh informs me (see his comment below) that the MRI analogy came from Panos Eftsa.
I loved that analogy. When I look at the storyboard I am really seeing how organized the learner’s thinking is, how detailed, and whether or not they are connecting the dots of cause and effect from the levels of their target conditions to their metrics down to their experiments and predictions.
I thought of an image like this:
Hugh was asking the audience about his situation of a client company that started up 13 storyboards at once. Some of the thoughts that came out:
Um… OK, you have already done that. *smile*
Establish a specific area of work for each board, each coach. Don’t try to bring them along all at once.
Work through each phase of the Coaching Kata, anchor success and mastery one-by-one rather than trying to batch everything through at once.
What was good about his client’s approach, though, is they are establishing a routine of people talking about why the work is the way it is – and that is awesome.
Toyota Kata Level-Set
At this point I am letting go of trying to write in the sequence of the agenda. There are topics I want to go deeper into, others I may combine.
The Toyota Kata Summit attracts people across a wide spectrum of knowledge and experience with “Toyota Kata” itself. Balancing the conference can present a real challenge. There are people who have been practicing this in the trenches for a decade and are pushing the boundaries. There are people who might have read the book and are curious about learning more.
One of the countermeasures is a “level set” presentation at the beginning of the formal conference. This is a brief overview of the fundamental principles of Toyota Kata and I think it is a good grounding for the veterans as well – it is always good to pull us back to the basics now and again.
Traditionally Mike Rother has done the “level set” presentation. This year, though, was a change and Oscar Roche stepped up. Oscar’s title slide drove home a critical point that we often miss:
“Kata is the a thing that helps you develop the a way”
His next slide answers the implied question:
My thoughts – and a digression
A lot of practitioners get hung up on the idea that the way they know best is the best way, sometimes to the point of believing it is the only way. This is true for Toyota Kata practitioners, general “lean” practitioners, Six Sigmites, Theory of Constraints, TQM, you name it.
Sometimes I hear people make sweeping statements that dismiss an entire community, perhaps focusing in on one thing they perceive as flawed. “Lean addresses waste but not quality (or not variation).” “TOC doesn’t address flow.” “Six Sigma is only about big projects.” “Toyota Kata is only about the storyboard.” All of these statements are demonstrably false, but it is hard to have an open minded discussion that begins with an absolute.
All (credible) continuous improvement has a foundation of scientific thinking. Any approach you take has some basic “first moves” to get you started thinking that way. Toyota Kata is more explicit about that than most, but the underlying principles are the same across the board.
Oscar’s opening slide emphasized this point: Toyota Kata is a way, not the way. We can all learn to adapt vs. continuing to hammer on a nail that has hit a knot and is bending over.
A teacher provides insight.
A coach pulls insight from the learner.
You may go back and forth between these two roles. Be crystal clear which role you are in at the moment.
I’ll probably write more about this in the future in a separate post. What I liked about this thought is that it is appropriate for the coach to provide direction or insight at times. My own presentation at KataCon kind of hinted at this – someone has to bring in the paradigm of what “really good” looks like.
Nevertheless, it is critical for the coach to drop into the “teacher” role only when necessary (which I think is a lot less often than we like to think it is), and then get back into true “coach” mode as quickly as possible. Why? Because unless I am in “curious” mode with my learner, I really have no way to know if my brilliant insights got any traction. 😉
Paraphrasing from Steven’s presentation, the question “What did you learn?” is there to see if there has been a moment of discovery.
The Power of Nothing
The most powerful follow-on question to “What did you learn?” is silence. If initial response is fluffy or vague, or you think there is more, just wait. Don’t try to say anything. The learner will instinctively fill in the awkward silence.
Target Condition vs. a Result
This came up a lot during the conference. Billy Taylor talked about the difference between “Key Activities” (KA) vs. “Key Indicators” (KI or KPI). What are the things that people have to do that will give us the result we are striving for? Leaders, all too often, push only on the outcome, and don’t ask whether the key activities are actually being carried out – or worse, don’t think about what activities are required (or the time and resources that will be required). I’m going dedicate a post on that topic.
And finally (and I am making this one bold so I remember it!) –
Don’t rob the leaner of their opportunity to make discoveries.
How often do we do that?
Michael had a brief presentation on “What we are learning” focused specifically into the health care field. His thoughts on medical students actually apply universally with anyone who perceives themselves as successful.
We need to de-stigmatize struggle. Productive struggle is part of deep learning. Medical students should not feel shame when they struggle to learn a new skill.
Why do they? Michael pointed out that the people who manage to get admitted to medical school are high-achievers. Things may well have come easily for them in high school and their undergraduate studies. Now they are in a group with other high-achievers, they don’t stand out from the crowd, and the concepts can be difficult to master.
We see the same things in other environments – a lot of people in senior positions of authority got there the same way. Many are ultra-competitive. Now we are asking them to master a skill that runs entirely counter to their paradigm of intuitive decision making. Note that that intuitive decision making has worked well for them in the past. But maybe they are at the limit of what they can do themselves, and have to find ways to engage others. I don’t know… there could be lots of scenarios that put them into completely unfamiliar territory.
Our challenge is how we de-stigmatize struggle.
Michael’s other key point touched one of the Wicked Problems in health care. I’m going to go into some more depth when I get to Tyson Ortiz’s presentation, but want to acknowledge the Great Question posed here:
“99% of activity needed to maintain wellness never involves a health system. Can we increase the striving capabilities and mental resilience of our patients, families, & communities so they can own their health journey?”
Amy tied our practice to the concept of “mindfulness.” One of her key points was learning to see that the pattern we are trying to teach may well be there in some form other than the explicit Improvement Kata.
She wrapped up with some guided practice of “being mindful” for the audience – which she said stretched her a bit as she had never done it with a group that large.
As a change agent, a mindfulness approach is critical. We have to learn to find everything about the way things are being done that we can leverage and extend. This means paying attention vs. the mindless approach of dismissing them out of hand with a single statement. Making people feel wrong may get attention focused on you, but it rarely helps make progress.
The afternoon was “Experientials” – four hour breakout sessions that went deep into a particular topic. As Craig Stritar and I were hosting one, I didn’t attend any of the others. Always a downside of being up-front – I see more of my own stuff than the awesome things others bring.
As I mentioned above, I am going to be digging into some of the topics in more depth, and I want to keep those individual posts focused vs. trying to cover a rich diversity of discussions all at once. Hmmm… one-by-one vs. batching. That might be a concept. 😉
I am sitting in on a daily production status meeting. The site has been in trouble meeting its schedule, and the division president is on the call.
The fact that a shipment of material hadn’t been loaded onto the truck to an outside process is brought up. The actual consequence was a small delay, with no impact on production.
The problem was brought up because bringing up process misses is how we learn what we need to work on.
The division president, taking the problem out of context, snaps and questions the competence of the entire organization. The room goes quiet, a few words are spoken in an attempt to just smooth over the current awkwardness. The call ends.
The conversation among those managers for the rest of that day, and the next, was more around how to carefully phrase what they say in the meeting, and less about how do we surface and solve problems.
This is understandable. The division president clearly didn’t want to hear about problems, failures, or the like. He expected perfect execution, and likely believed that by making that expectation loud and clear that he would get perfect execution.
That approach, in turn, now has an effect on every decision as the managers concern themselves with how things will look to the division president.
Problems are being discussed in hallways, in side conversations, but not written down. All of this is a unconscious but focused effort to present the illusion that things are progressing according to plan.
Asking for help? An admission of failure or incompetence.
This, of course, gets reflected in the conversations throughout the organization. At lower levels, problems are worked around, things are improvised, and things accumulate and fester until they cannot be ignored.
They the bubble up to the next level, and another layer of paint is plastered over the corrosion.
Until something breaks. And everyone is surprised – why didn’t you say anything? Because you didn’t want us to!
In a completely different organization, there were pre-meetings before the meeting with the chief of engineering. The purpose of these pre-meetings was to control what things would be brought up, and how they would be brought up.
The staff was concealing information from the boss because snap reaction decisions were derailing the effort to advance the project.
And in yet another organization they are getting long lists of “initiatives” from multiple senior people at the overseas corporate level. Time is being spent debating about whether a particular improvement should be credited to this-or-that scope. It this a “value improvement,” is it a “quality improvement,” is it a “continuous improvement” project?
Why? Because these senior level executives are competing with one another for how much “savings” they can show.
Result at the working level? People are so overwhelmed that they get much less done… and the site leader is accused of “not being committed” to this-or-that program because he is trying to juggle his list of 204 mandated improvement projects and manage the work of the half-a-dozen site people who are on the hook to get it all done.
And one final case study – an organization where the site leader berates people, directly calls them incompetent, diminishes their value… “I don’t know what you do all day”, one-ups any hint of expert opinion with some version of “I already know all of that better than you possibly could.”
In response? Well, I think it actually is fostering the staff to unite as a tight team, but perhaps not for the reasons he expects. They are working to support each other emotionally as well as running the plant as they know it should be run in spite of this behavior.
He is getting the response he expects – people are not offering thoughts (other than his) for improvements, though they are experimenting in stealth mode in a sort of continuous improvement underground.
And people are sending out resumes and talking to recruiters.
This is all the metastasized result of the cancer of fear.
In her intro, Liz Ryan sets out her working hypothesis:
I don’t believe there’s a manager anywhere who would say “I manage my team through fear.”
They have no idea that they are fear-based managers — and no one around them will tell them the truth!
And I think, for the most part, this is true. If I type “how to lead with fear” into Google I get, not surprisingly, no hits that describe the importance of intimidation for a good leader – though there are clearly leaders (as my example above) who overtly say that intimidation is something they do.)
My interpretation of her baseline would be summarized:
People who use fear and intimidation from a position of authority are often tying their own self-esteem to their position within that bureaucratic structure. Their behavior extends from their need to reinforce their externally granted power, as they have very little power that comes from within them.
They are, themselves, afraid of being revealed as unqualified, or making mistakes, or uncertain, or needing help or advice.
I have probably extended a bit of my own feelings into this, but it is my take-away.
She then goes on to outline five characteristic behaviors she sees in these “leaders.” I’ll let you read the article and see if anything resonates.
Liz Ryan’s article is, I think, about how to spot these leaders and avoid taking jobs working for them.
This post is about how the organization responds to fear based leadership.
The Breakdown of Trust
A long time ago, I wrote a post about :The 3 Elements of “Safety First”. Today I would probably do a better and more nuanced job expressing myself, but here is my key point:
If a team member does not feel safe from emotional or professional repercussions, it means they do not trust you.
Fear based leadership systematically breaks down trust, which chokes off the truth from every conversation.
Here is my question: Do you want people to hide the truth?
If the answer is “No,” then the next question is “What forces in your organization encourage them to do so?” because:
Your organization is PERFECTLY designed to produce the BEHAVIORS you are currently experiencing.