Continuing my breakdown of Billy Taylor’s opening keynote at KataCon…
Key Bullet Points
People follow what you do before they follow what you say.
If you (as a leader) think you are above the process…
Deliberate practice on your practice of leadership. Focus on one thing.
Break down your leadership style [into elements]. Practice deliberately on one thing you want to reinforce or improve.
That second bullet is a real challenge for those of us who are in leadership positions (or even positions of influence). “If you think you are above the process…” – do you follow the standards and expectations you ask of others?
I think a good test would be “If a production worker corrected you, how would you respond?” If your internal emotional response (that initial feeling you have, not how you show yourself) is anything other than “Thank you for reminding me” then you are exempting yourself from the rules.
The other take-away:
Throughout his presentation, Billy was tying together the idea of “deliberate practice” and “developing leadership skills.” Leadership is a process, and processes can be broken down into their constituent elements and practiced.
This ties back perfectly to a broad spectrum of leadership development models. In the end, what we can control are:
What we say.
How we say it.
Who we say it to.
The structure of the environment that either inhibits or encourages the behaviors we want.
All of these things can be developed through experimentation, and then practiced. This is what Toyota Kata is about.
The first official day of KataCon kicked off with a keynote on deliberate practice by Billy Taylor. I first met Billy back in 2012 when I was doing some work with Goodyear. When I saw him at last year’s KataCon it was like running into an old friend, but that is who Billy Taylor is – even if you just met him.
Billy Taylor on Deliberate Practice
Pull quotes and thoughts
The Concept of Deliberate Practice
Toyota Kata has two sides, like a coin. On one side is scientific thinking. On the flip side is deliberate practice.
Traditional practice is often just mindless repetition. Deliberate practice has focused attention on perhaps one aspect of the routine.
A couple of things come to mind for me here. First is that too many coaches go through mindless repetition of the Coaching Kata. They just ask the next question on the card, and never practice using the questions to nudge the learner’s thinking to the next level.
This means they never practice in a way that pushes them as coaches. More about that below.
The other is that we, all too often, take a learner through the entire process much too fast. We do this in classes to give them a taste of the whole process. But in real life, perhaps it would be best to anchor each Starter Kata step and ensure there is at least understanding before moving to the next.
When 2nd coaching it is equally important to focus both the coach AND the learner on improving a single aspect of the board.
As I am writing this, I am reflecting more, and parsing more. This slide offers a ton of insight for me:
There is so much here on a lot of levels.
This is how I interpret the graphs: On the left we have “Just Practice.” Maybe I am learning to play a song on the guitar. As I practice I learn to play it better and better. Then I hit a plateau because I am comfortably good and not challenging myself anymore. I am just playing. And that feels awesome, because I validate to myself that I am pretty good.
At a higher level, this is the “lean plateau” that so many companies hit. They get really good at running kaizen events, or black belt projects, or whatever they do. They hit a pretty good level of performance, but things erode. They reach a plateau when the implementers are spending all of their time re-implementing what has eroded. They shift into mindlessly repeating the familiar rather than challenge themselves. What are we missing? Why is the skill concentrated into the same half dozen individuals who have been doing this since 1999?
The graph on the right represents something that is the same, but different. Take a look – each little squiggle repeats the graph on the left, only smaller. Each time a plateau is hit, the learner challenges herself to practice a new aspect. Things get a little worse for a bit, then as the new aspect is mastered, the process is repeated.
I see the job of the coach as two fold:
To challenge the learner in small steps, always looking for the obstacle to the next level of performance.
To offer up specific things to practice.
Billy’s presentation covered a lot of overlapping territory – enough for at least two more posts – stay tuned.
In his level-set / coaching demonstration, Steven Kane talked extensively about obscuring the jargon of Toyota Kata to defuse pushback.
Tracy Defoe had a separate brief presentation titled “Kata in Secret” – and this has been a topic of discussion in the weekly Cascadia Kata Coaches call that Tracy hosts.
The two cases were a little different. In Steven’s case, he was (I think) talking about an organized effort. Lots of companies trying something new need to alter the jargon a bit. On a broader scale, there are quite a few companies where Japanese jargon will create an immediate wall of resistance, so why create the problem? Just change the words.
And I’ve certainly encountered cases where there was resistance to the very idea of any structure at all. Dealing with that took regressing away from the Coaching Kata and back to the more informal conversation that the Coaching Kata is teaching us to have.
Tracy’s cases are a little different. She is collecting stories from often solo practitioners who are practicing Toyota Kata under the radar because they are perceiving career risks if they are overt. In one cases a leader was explicitly told not to use Toyota Kata because it ran counter to the corporate lean program. She did anyway.
While I find these stories interesting, I am not surprised by them. I have seen, and even advocated, this for a long time. I call it “camouflage.” My principle is this:
Do the right thing, but make it look like what they expect to see.
In other words, there is no point getting dogmatic about something unless doing so advances your cause in come way. In still other words, don’t let “being right” get in the way of what you are trying to get done.
For example – one company I have worked with for a long time got hard pushback from their corporate continuous improvement mafia office. “We don’t have obstacle parking lots. We have kaizen newspapers.” OK, fine. They labeled the obstacle sheet “kaizen newspaper” and just call it “improvement coaching” and everybody is happy.
The key is this: Don’t dilute what you are trying to do. If you start moving away from developing a pattern of scientific thinking in the people you are helping, then you are letting the tools take precedence.
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. 😉
Tyson zeroed right in on one of the biggest problems with “training” – getting people to adopt the new process or method after we have taught it to them.
Compounding this was that, in his example, the training was TWI Job Instruction – how to train. Tyson took a quick show-of-hands poll and informally confirmed his hypothesis that most people who take the TWI Job Instruction 10 hour course are already engaged in training and teaching.
This means that they have to do more than learn a new habit – one which will feel awkward to them at first. They also have to unlearn their current way of doing things – a way that is likely comfortable and familiar to them. To paraphrase from a slide of mine that seems to keep coming up: This. Is. Hard.
Taking what he has learned from Toyota Kata, Tyson saw the 4 Step Method for what it is: A routine for practice, not the end-all. For that to work, there must be actual practice using the routine. The 10 hour class is telling them about it* – and telling alone is not enough!
What Tyson did was add structured follow-on practice with real work, but not real training where the participants can practice, make mistakes, and learn in a safe environment. Then they move to live environments, but are still being coached. Then they are graduated and put on their own.
Another key is that passing each stage is based on performance, not a time line. It is up to the coach, since the coach is the teacher, and “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”
*Yes, the class includes demonstrating the four steps – but each participant typically only gets one repetition, hardly enough for us to know that they know.
Roger actually built on the theme that Tyson was developing – the process of getting Job Instruction incorporated into the daily routine of the organization.
We often call this “managing change” or more cynically “overcoming resistance” but I think both Roger and Tyson are operating at a much more fundamental and human level. It’s called paying attention to what is causing stress and fear and make sure you deal with it effectively and with empathy.
And it is empathy where Roger begins.
He used the Stanford design school model to experiment his way toward a solution that used the framework of Job Instruction in a way that worked for the particular situation. And isn’t that the whole idea?
As I was listening, I scribbled a note in the margin: “this is Menlo’s model” – the design process that Menlo Innovations. It isn’t really – this model uses different words. But the structure, intent, purpose is the same and is followed by all robust design and product development processes.
Roger was operating in an environment that was unfriendly to paper, had lots of high-variety and low-volume tasks that people had to get right.
Once he understood that he had motivated people in a tough situation, they began working together to develop simple solutions that worked – starting with simple sketches and hand-written notes on laminated cards.
Iterating through, always asking “What small step can we take?” toward the goal, always asking “How can we test that assumption or idea?” they converged on a solution that worked really well.
Not surprisingly, it was very visual and simple, and captured “Key Points” from the Job Breakdown.
There was a lot more good stuff at the TWI Summit. I’ll cover my own keynote separately. And I missed the 3 hour “Experiential” sessions because I was presenting one. And for the afternoon of Day 2 I was attending Oscar Roche’s version of a Toyota Kata class that follows the 5 x 2 hour structure of the classic TWI JI, JR, JM classes.
Thus, the next big thing for me to report on will be KataCon – which will be my next post.
One of the artifacts of Extreme Programming as practiced by Menlo Innovations is the Story Card. In the purest sense, a story card represents one unit of work that must be done by the developers to advance the work on the software project.
But the content and structure of the story card make it much more powerful than a simple task assignment. The story card is written in a way that engages the programming pair doing the work.
Before a story card is created the team works very hard to identify the primary persona that represents the human being who most benefits from their work. That persona gets a name, a face, a biography. She has wants, needs and aspirations.
Why? A couple of reasons.
First, it establishes priority of effort. In software development compromises must be made between optimizing the interface and workflows for various users. By identifying the primary persona, the team says “This person’s use of the software will be optimized.” Other users will certainly be accommodated, but any compromise will break in favor of the primary persona.
Menlo, for one, works very hard in the up-front design process to smoothly integrate the workflow created by their software into the larger context and workflow that their end-user is trying to carry out.
The other effect is more subtle. It humanizes the “user” as the developers are talking about what their code does, or does not, do.
Rather than simply set out a feature in an abstract way, the story card focuses on granting an ability to the main persona. The process of creating the personas, and developing the persona map humanizes the group of people that would traditionally be thought of as “the users.”*
Thus, the feature would be described something like this:
“Sara is able to select her choice of color from a pull-down menu of options.”
Then the developers write code that enables Sara to do this, quickly and easily.
This is a simplification, but it suffices to set up my main point.
Who Are You Optimizing Your Improvements For?
Let’s translate this thinking into our world of continuous improvement.
Who is your key persona? Who are you enabling with your process improvement? What will this person be able to do that, today, he cannot?
Rather than saying “The lowest repeatable time does not exceed 38 seconds” as a target condition, what if I said “John is able to routinely perform the work in 38 seconds when it is problem-free.”
I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot more emotionally engaged with the second phrasing. This is doubly true if John is an actual person actually doing the work.
What about scaling to other shifts, other operators?
Yup. I agree that at some point your target condition is going to shift to “Any trained team member” but what I tell people today when they are trying to go there first is this:
“If you can’t get it stable with one person, you are never going to get there with multiple people.”
You have to get it to work once first. Then introduce the next layer of complexity. Start simple. One step at a time. Control your variables.
I have been experimenting with this linguistic shift in my Toyota Kata classes and consulting.
If you are in R&D this is an even more direct application back to Menlo’s model.
Training = Giving People Ability
I also ran an experiment with a client HR team that was charged with developing a comprehensive on-boarding training process.
Rather than do the traditional thing, which is take the laundry list of topics they are supposed to try to cover, and trying to figure out how to stuff everything into the time they have been given (40 hours, which is really more like 35 hours), I asked them to experiment with the following:
For each skill they have been asked to train, write it on a separate 5×7 card in the form of “[The learner] is able to _________.” In other words, describe the skill as an ability that someone is able to demonstrate.
Then determine how they will test that skill. Do that before they even think about how they are going to teach it.
Then develop training experiences and exercises that they believe will allow the learner to pass the test.
Software developers will recognize this as “test driven development” – start with the unit test, then write the code.
Testing Your Target Condition
As in the example above, a target condition should also be testable. By stating what we will observe or measure when the target condition is met, we are constructing a “unit test” of sorts.
By stating what we will observe or measure first, we can separate “solved” from “the solution” and open up the possibilities of what solution(s) we will experiment with.
In the culture of many more traditional software development and I.T. organizations, “users” can be almost a derogatory term, with an implied, usually (but not always) silent “dumb” appended to the front. We write Books for Dummies so they can understand our brilliant systems.
I’ll call the title of this post “Dave’s Observation.”
He is reflecting his experience in varied industries that if a company grows beyond its ability to deliver quality product, on time, then order volume will drop until it reaches a point that performance returns.
The business literature is full of examples of this – companies who could not keep up with their own success, their performance deteriorates and, well, many of them go out of business.
I have seen more than a few companies with aggressive growth plans that outrun their ability to actually execute, and they get into trouble.
This also happens in mergers and acquisitions where one company is merged into another with the assumption that the combined company can execute and perform in ways neither company has ever done. Starry-eyed executives often look only at the financial models, maybe equipment capacity, and skip over the operational aspects of their due diligence.
In the end, though, if the operational capability is not there, then none of the plans actually matter. Your “synergy” or “economy of scale” will evaporate like an ice cube on the Moon until equilibrium is restored.
Bottom line: If you are engaged in an ambitious growth plan, then list everything that has to be different for your model to work.
By “different” I mean you are asking for or expecting some task execution or level of performance that does not exist today as a matter of mundane routine.
Then ask “What is our plan to close this gap?” – and run the same exercise on executing that plan. “Change” is really hard, and just telling people what needs to be different, no matter how pretty the PowerPoint slides are, no matter how slick the presentation is, won’t make anything change. (If anything, it often breeds cynicism because it is read as unrealistic.)
Change requires step-by-step, methodical, practice to anchor each small change into the system, then the next, then the next.
Toyota Kata offers a good pattern for this. Just don’t confuse the underlying pattern with the methods used to teach it.
This search question landed someone on my site yesterday, and I thought it would be a good one to try to answer specifically:
why is lean manufacturing preferred to implement target condition as compared to target?
In other words, what is the difference between a “target” and a “target condition?”
Where this gets sticky is that there isn’t any canonical definition of either term. There are people who use “target” to describe what I mean when I say “target condition.” So I think it is probably best to focus on that term: “Target Condition.”
“Target Condition” = “Target Process”
A team I am working with is bringing up a new (to them) product line. Their short-term target is to complete 8 units / day. But just saying that doesn’t describe the way they want the process itself to operate.
The Target Condition for the line is unit-by-unit flow in critical parts; with order-by-order flow in others (where we can’t overcome batching at the moment). To that end, we have created some guidelines for the layout and movement of work; limits on work-in-progress inventory, etc.
We know that this can’t be achieved right away, but aren’t sure what problems will surface as we try. Thus, the effort is focused on trying to operate to the target process in order to surface those obstacles so they can be systematically addressed.
So – to answer the question “Why [does] lean manufacturing prefer to implement a target condition as compared to a target?” – Unless we know how we want the process to operate, we have no point of comparison for how it is actually operating.
Without the ability to compare “What should be?” with “What actually is?” we cannot identify the gaps we need to close, the problems we need to work on to get there.
I am still digesting my experience at the Toyota Kata Summit (KataCon) and the TWI Summit but I wanted to reflect on one of the emerging themes, and some of the reactions.
One of the themes that emerged at both conferences – and to be clear, something I had a hand in influencing as well – was mechanisms for altering the culture of the organization. In other words, what we brand as “change.”
This is what I would call an “advanced topic”
What is Culture?
Books have been written about “organizational culture” and trying to create models that define “it” in some way. In the end, I think they all come down to various ways of saying “how people talk to each other.” This includes who talks to whom, and what structures and rules guide those conversations.
When we study “culture” we are looking at the groups’ default patterns of interaction. If we want to change those patterns, we have to alter people’s habitual behaviors. As I said in my KataCon keynote, This. Is. Hard. It is even harder when you are talking about group behavior vs. simply individuals.
Making Toyota Kata Work is Changing Culture
The point of using Toyota Kata is to practice and learn a scientific mindset. Getting an improvement storyboard set up that is focused on a challenge, and going through the Starter Kata of Grasping the Current Condition; Establishing the Next Target Condition; Identifying Obstacles; and Running Experiments Against Obstacles is a technically straight forward.
It is easier with an experienced coach to help you through it, but can be learned on your own if you are willing to be self-critical and persevere through things not working as well as you thought they would.
But beyond the scientific thinking pattern, we are also working to change the default behavior pattern toward one of working in Coach / Learner pairs on an ongoing daily basis. This is not the default mode of most organizations. (If it were, then Toyota Kata would be redundant.)
This means (to me) that, while actually practicing the Starter Kata is very important, getting people to do so in the first place often requires leading past the technical aspects. It requires altering the way people interact and work together.
Whose Work Is It?
Of course this is ultimately the work of line leadership, represented by the “advance group” or “steering team” or “shepherding group” or whatever you call them. Sometimes those people, too, have to learn a new way to lead and manage.
“The activity of mobilizing people to do difficult work.”
They further assert (and I agree) that leadership is an activity, not a position.
I am bringing these things up because if we want an organization to begin practicing ways to engage one another differently, it is common to run into resistance. In other words, we must mobilize people to do the difficult work of changing their default thinking and routines of interaction.
In doing so, we will surface clashes of hidden values, senses of loss, anxiety and fear: Things which cause people to find reasons to opt out of participating.
Sometimes it isn’t as simple as saying “Just follow the Starter Kata.”
How to Deploy Toyota Kata
Actually the message of “adaptive leadership” has been present since at least the first KataCon back in 2015. One of the mantras that emerged that year was “Kata your Kata” – in other words, there isn’t a clear-cut path that works every time. You have to learn your way into it as an organization, as a leader.
The difficult part is that this requires going in deeper than the Starter Kata, and applying the underlying pattern of Challenge; Current Condition; Target Condition; Experiments against Obstacles.
The pattern is the same, but this isn’t about cycle time variation, it is about influencing (mobilizing) people, reaching agreements, encouraging them to “just try it” – in a process of discovering what works in that case, with those people, then doing it again.
A New Way of Working vs. Business as Usual
So… if we are going to get Toyota Kata out of the classroom, and past the first challenge or target condition into a sustaining, habitual process, we’ll have to address cultural issues.
The skill set for this is different than a technical process change skill set. We’ll have to learn our way through the grey zone for this part as well.
In this video clip, author and speaker Simon Sinek articulately explains why the things that matter most aren’t measurable, nor can they be created over the short term. Watch the video, then I’d like to extend his thought process into continuous improvement.
The idea of doing the little things consistently over time is a powerful one that we often overlook in our hurry to show a spectacular result this week. We don’t get results from the big action we are taking today. We get results when business-as-usual is getting the little things right the vast majority of the time.
Let’s extend his line of reasoning down a level.
“At what point could we say we were living continuous improvement every day?” How can you measure that? Just like his analogies in the video, there isn’t an answer to that question. You can’t measure it. The idea of putting “culture change” on a project plan makes no more sense than a project plan for “falling in love.” You start to do the right things, and keep doing them, and at some point you realize the conversations are between the right people about the right things.
Decisions Cause Results
The results we are getting today – the success of our organization against any metric you choose; the organizational climate and culture; the initiative people collectively show; the quality of our own life results – are the cumulative outcomes of the decisions we have consistently made.
If we want different outcomes, then we have to work to change what we consistently do. This will take time. Sinek points out that there is space for exceptions, making mistakes here as long as we recognize them, recover, reflect, and continue to make the effort.
A Little Every Day
If this is a change in your default behavior, then this effort requires deliberately and explicitly comparing the conversations, actions and decisions that are actually happening with a baseline for comparison. “On a scale of 1-10, did I make my very best effort to be consistent with these values today?”* Ask that question every single day, and write down the number. Oh – can you articulate the values you are working to adopt? Maybe write those down in language that lets you use them as a test comparison.
Some Questions to Ask
Is what I am about to do or say more likely to:
Encourage, or discourage, this person from sharing the truth (especially bad news)?
Add, or subtract, fear from the environment or the next conversation?
Encourage, or discourage, the sharing of ideas?
Encourage, or discourage, a test or challenge of my assumptions?
Encourage, or discourage, horizontal coordination across functional boundaries?
Have this person look forward to our next conversation?
Fill in your own questions here, but you get the idea – get explicit, and ask Yes or No questions about the expected impact of the actions you are about to take. Use the same questions to reflect on the actions and conversations you had today.
Key to Change: Practice, With Correction
To change the outcomes we are getting we will have to practice new ways of interacting with those around us (and new ways of interacting with our own inner-voice – but that gets into psychotherapy). It does no good to berate ourselves when we make mistakes. That just induces stress and fear. “Avoiding mistakes” is the surest way to try nothing and to learn nothing.
Though the word “coach” is overused to the point of being a meaningless cliche today (much like the word “lean”), having someone to ask the hard reflection questions is much more helpful than trying to do this as an inner conversation in your own head. Unfortunately a lot of work places don’t provide this kind of support and encouragement. If that describes yours, then I’d encourage you to enlist a friend or confidant, or hire someone who isn’t embroiled in your “stuff” every day. That makes them more likely to challenge your excuses and the Basic Story you tell yourself to justify what you do.
Authority vs Leadership
Having formal authority certainly helps get stuff done, but it is not the same as leadership. Nor is formal authority required to exhibit leadership. Many of you (my readers) are expected to exert influence without having formal authority. And I fully understand the frustration that can come with this – been there, done that.
What works? I don’t know. Nobody knows. There isn’t a formula or recipe for effective influence. Rather there is working consistently in ways that build cross-linked networks of trust and mutual accountability between people at the working levels you can reach.
Getting there requires “grasping the current condition” of the organization’s dynamics, developing an interpretative story (or multiple stories), then running deliberate experiments as you seek to learn what works to influence those dynamics. This is what Ron Heifetz and Martin Minsky call “Adaptive Leadership.” The Toyota Kata model adapts very easily into theirs, by the way.
And my self-plug: If you want to go into a little more depth on this topic, come to the Toyota Kata Summit (aka KataCon) in Savannah in February (2019) and attend the “Experiential Workshop” that Craig and I are putting on. Be part of our experiment as we explore together mechanisms that we can practice to apply these concepts in real life.