Monday, March 20, 2017

"How Will You Motivate Your Team, Pascal-san?"

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

An elderly Japanese asked me this question a long time ago and it has stayed with me. How, indeed, do we motivate people to do extraordinary things?

There are many schools of thought. The carrot & stick is perhaps the oldest. "Do as I say or I'll do bad things to you!" There's no denying it works – to a point.

But the carrot & stick is a classic ‘push’ system. Is there any pull? Does it motivate creative work, breakthrough work?

Did Steve Jobs motivate his designers to want to create the IPod, IPhone, IPad by threatening them continually? No doubt there was an element of fear. "Don’t want Steve hollering at me again!"

But there was much more. Transcendent achievement requires connection to a deeper purpose – to a ‘Noble Goal’.

Jobs' celebrated hoshin (motto) is a good example. Let's put a ding in the universe.

Subtext: Let’s kick butt & take names! Let’s shoot the moon! Let’s give it everything we’ve got! And why? Because we’re human & we only live once. So let’s let the universe know we were here, that we lived to the fullest and left our mark.

Despite his idiosyncrasies, Jobs touched the heart. His 2005 Stanford commencement speech gets me every time.

‘Something for the head, something for the heart’, I’ve suggested Getting the Right Things Done.

And so, to motivate a team to strive for the transcendent, define and commit to a Noble Goal. Our hoshin here at Lean Pathways is Laughs, Learning & Lucre! – which reflects our purpose & priorities.

We often get it wrong. But by articulating our Purpose clearly, we can see abnormalities and are usually able to get back to a good condition.

Next time: How do we sustain our activities in the face of hurtles, hassles and hammerheads?

Best regards,


Monday, March 6, 2017

Why is Lean So Hard? – Organizational Elements

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Lean – So Easy, It’s Hard’ seems to have hit home. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

In this piece I focused on our personal qualities that make Lean so hard to sustain (e.g. our innate trickiness and laziness).

A number of folks asked me to talk some more about organizational elements that hinder Lean.

Lean’s foundation is Standards and Connections – (Rules 1 and 2 of the Four Rules articulated by our MIT friend & colleague, Dr Stephen Spear, whose work I recommend highly.)

What organizational elements or qualities weaken or hinder Standards and Connections?


A standard is a picture of ‘What Should Be Happening’ (WSBH), our current ‘least-waste-way’ of doing a given task, the best way we know today. Most often, the front line team defines our standards for doing our work.

Senior leaders define WSBH in the form of organizational goals, the management system through which we run and improve our business, and our values (standards of behavior).

Here’s the rub: If senior leaders fail to meet the latter, our team members will ignore the former. Senior leaders have to embody our Values. If not, team members will pay scant attention to our organization’s goals & management system.

Think about that – team members will ignore our Purpose and our way of working. Can decay be far off? I’m reminded of Peter Drucker’s elegant summation of the Leader’s Purpose: 1) Get business results, 2) Create capability, and 3) Reinforce values.

Leader visibility in the form of purposeful & regular gemba time is an excellent way of doing all three. “Holy cow, the President was just here. She remembered my name and thanked us for making our problems visible and taking the lead in fixing them. She had some good suggestions & she’d be back again next month.”

In summary, if leaders at all levels embody the organization’s values, team members will embrace its purpose and management system.


Connections are the magnetic force that animates our management system. Each team has multiple connections – to our internal customers and suppliers, and to our ultimate customer. Strong connections entail reflecting on and answering challenging questions:

Just who are our customers? What do they need from us? What are the critical few metrics that express those needs? How do we make our current condition visible, so that we can see our biggest problems – and fix them?

To answer such questions, we need a supportive management system and culture. At our splendid Toyota site in Cambridge Ontario, it was understood that the downstream process was our customer, and that we’d have a stand-up meeting every morning to reflect on how we did the day before. If we in the Paint shop had delivered junk to the Assembly shop, we took it personally. I was letting down Freddie and his team. At shift end, all of us suppliers to Assembly shop met at the ‘money board’ to reflect on how we’d done, and how we’d improve.

Big Company Disease, the nemesis in many of my books, weakens such connections and can be a mortal threat. Big Company Disease usually begins with hubris – arrogance, haughtiness, excessive pride. “He who the gods would destroy, they first hold high…”, Euripides tells us.

Sometimes, industry structure inherently hinders connections. Government agencies (almost always monopolies), are perhaps the most obvious example. In the absence of competition, why should anybody care about the customer? (You may recall my recent ‘Agita at Air Canada’ piece…) To be sure, even here, fine people are fighting the good fight. A deep bow here to Governor Doug Ducey and the team in the great state of Arizona, who are building the Arizona Management System to make government work for the people. Imagine that… [video]

But would this splendid enterprise flourish under a less diligent governor? And what happens when Governor Ducey moves on? Indeed, building and sustaining connections are the Achilles’ Heel of public service.

Increasingly, rapidly advancing technology can weaken connections. I remember a strategy session with a senior Silicon Valley team, who spent much of the time berating customers for being ‘so out of it’.

“What do you think?” the senior leader asked me at session’s end. “I think you hate your customers,” my reply.

In summary, Lean is hard to sustain because of a) our human hard-wiring, as described in my earlier blog, and b) organizational elements that weaken Standards and Connections, as described above.

Excellent is a game with endless innings. At best we partially succeed – and that makes all the difference.

Best regards,


Monday, February 27, 2017

Tip of the Hat to Catalysis

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

“We want to transform the healthcare industry to deliver higher value through experiments, collaboration and education…”

A mission driven person and organization can change the world & that’s what Catalysis is all about.

Dr. John Toussaint, Kim Barnas, Helen Zak and the rest of the team are trying to change the healthcare world through experimentation, collaboration & education.

It’s a daunting task, and one that requires tenacity and courage.  (Our Lean Pathways crew have found healthcare transformation to be our toughest & most rewarding assignment.)

I’m lucky enough to count several Catalysis leaders as friends, and can attest that they have the above qualities in abundance.  (They merit even greater respect when you realize they don’t need to do any of this & could pass the time on the beach sipping mojitos…)

I’m please & honored, therefore, that Catalysis on-line bookstore is carrying Andy & Me and the Hospital, the latest Tom Papas & Andy Saito adventure. Order here.

Tom & Andy get pulled into a major New York City hospital in crisis – chaos ensures.  It’s my best book.

If you’re interested, please give Andy & Me and the Hospital a gander on-line at Catalysis.  Yes, it costs a couple of bucks more here than at Amazon.  But you’re helping out a splendid organization that’s making the world a better place.

A tip of the hat & a deep bow to the splendid folks at Catalysis.  Full speed ahead & long may you run.

Best regards, 


Monday, February 20, 2017

Agita at Air Canada

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

We’re not happy, till you’re not happy – Air  Canada motto

I’m going to blow off some steam here.  I don’t like Air Canada – I don’t the management system or the ‘leaders’ who own it, who each day subject their customers and employees to entirely avoidable hell.

(I exclude the front line staff here, who are usually courteous, and helpful within their constraints.) 

I know Air Canada is not uniquely awful.  Colleagues assure me that United, American Airlines & others are just as bad.  (I’m sure you all have had hassles as bad or worse that the one I’m about to describe.)

A few years ago I boycotted Air Canada in favor of Delta, a carrier that has embraced customer service.  I have no regrets.

(A deep bow to Delta, Southwest, Alaskan and other carriers who put their customers first. Long may you run.)

Thing is, Delta and other excellent carriers do not have access to many Canadian routes – Air Canada having lobbied the Canadian government to limit competition.  (Entrepreneurialism, eh?)

Well, circumstances recently forced me, kicking & screaming, onto an Air Canada flight.  I was flying to Quebec City, the splendid capitol of 'la belle province'.

Two flights, both standard 'milk runs', repeated several times per day.  You'd think this is one route they could get right, no?

So what happened?

My outgoing flight was delayed more than two hours.  No explanation or apology. Moreover, there were hassles checking in, multiple queues and random last-minute changes.  But Air Canada was just getting going…

The return flight was delayed 10 hours – again with no explanation.  My fellow travellers were resigned.  "It's always like this," a young woman told me. "I hate them but I have no other option."

Then we boarded and sat on the tarmac for another 90 minutes, with no explanation.  Finally, Air Canada cancelled the flight.  For the record, the weather was fine – no snow, ice or major storms in the region.

By this time we were spitting out teeth like chiclets.  Then things got worse, as if Air Canada was saying, “You think that was bad? Well, watch this!” 

There was no agent on hand to help us rebook our flights, no hotel voucher or indeed any help at all.  Eighty beaten down passengers stranded in an isolated airport at 11:00 pm with no support at all.

My travel agent has followed up – no response from ‘Customer Service’.  Air Canada's customer feedback pages are a river of anger. How do AC's leaders react?  They ignore the feedback and lobby government to reduce competition.

Air travel used to about freedom.  Today it’s a series of indignities – queues, invasive searches, and suspicious questions. Then rogue carriers like AC take over and finish you off.

Why am I bothering to write this? Because villains should be outed.  You ought to know about Air Canada.  Avoid them as you would a rabid skunk.

As for me, it’ll be a long time before I allow wild horses to drag me on to another Air Canada flight.

Best regards,