Monday, August 8, 2022

Lean, Leadership & Ethics, Part 1

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Been reflecting about each of these lately, and how they relate.

But what’s Ethics got to do with anything?

We’re in a proverbial knowledge economy. The market caps of, say, Google, Facebook and Apple, dwarf that of Toyota.

Google, Facebook and Apple have comparatively little in physical capital. ‘All’ they have is intellectual capital, and in particular, human capital.

How does human capital differ, from say, physical or financial capital?

Unlike, say, a machine, or a bond, human capital can chose not to deploy. Human capital can chose to walk out the door, in fact.

“That army will win which has the same spirit,” said Sun Tsu twenty-five hundred years ago. It’s never been more true.

Yet Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report tells us that only 13% of employees are engaged in their work!

Big company disease and organizational dysfunction is so deeply entrenched that we barely flinch at such data.

Imagine you’re a factory manager and your machines are operating at only 13% of capacity!

Why are people so disengaged? Gallup doesn’t say. But I suspect that disillusionment, or even disgust, at what the organization stands for, or how management behaves, is a major reason.

There’s more. Millennials (those born after 1980) will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025. And Gallup tells us that ethical behavior in corporations is even more important to millennials than to their parents.

Of course Ethics matters. People will not follow swine, at least not willingly, for very long. People will certainly not commit their hearts and minds – unless they feel good about what the organization stands for.

Best regards,

Pascal




In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

The Work of Leaders
Why is Lean So Hard? – Organizational Elements
The Trouble with Corporate Clichés
Economy I and II - Never the Twain Shall Meet?


Monday, July 25, 2022

The Work of Leaders

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

What’s the leader’s Job One?

To ensure that all people are working on the right things.

Rather bland, but true, no?

Respect for humanity means I won't waste my team's time asking them to do stupid or wasteful things.

Here's an extreme example to illustrate the point:

One of the most vicious punishments meted out in the awful Soviet gulags was this:

Spend all day digging out a large hole. Then spend the next day filling it back in.

Prisoners would go mad with the meaninglessness of it.

But consider how it parallels so much corporate work.

I've seen good, smart people doing much the same work -- at the whim of some executive, or to satisfy some absurd corporate rule.

"Dig out that hole – and then fill it back in!"

After a while people lose part of their humanity. To paraphrase Winston Smith at the end of George Orwell’s classic, 1984,

"Two plus two really does equal five..."

It’s one of the bleakest endings in all of literature. Winston loses his soul. Big Brother wins.

So leaders at all levels have a heavy responsibility.

“I must use my people's time and humanity wisely.”

Best regards,

Pascal




In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Why is Lean So Hard? – Organizational Elements
The Trouble with Corporate Clichés
Economy I and II - Never the Twain Shall Meet?
Strategy is Not About Doing What’s “Important”


Monday, July 11, 2022

Why is Lean So Hard? – Organizational Elements

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

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?

Standards

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

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? 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…

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,

Pascal




In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

The Trouble with Corporate Clichés
Economy I and II - Never the Twain Shall Meet?
Strategy is Not About Doing What’s “Important”
Agriculture - The Next Frontier?


Monday, June 27, 2022

The Trouble with Corporate Clichés

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

"Think outside the box"

"Ducks in a row"

"Low-hanging fruit"

"Let's take this off-line"

Why do these and other corporate clichés make us cringe so?

Well, they're often used by lazy people to express stale, tired thinking.

If we haven't thought about something deeply, why burden people with inanities?

If we can't express an idea in a fresh way, why should anybody listen?


Secondly, clichés are often used by clueless people who want to sound intelligent, which can be unsettling.

(One wonders, "Why are there so many bozos around here?")

Thirdly, strategy & problem solving begin with a mature acceptance of reality. Clichés just get in the way.

Holy cow, that's a rhinoceros and it just did something nasty on the carpet!

A clear concise description of the problem. Effective countermeasures will eventually follow.

Now consider how a cliché-ridden mind might respond:

"We need to think outside the box, lean in and ask clarifying questions! There is some low hanging fruit here, and perception is reality.

Let's consider our scalable options, get our ducks in a row and create synergy between our silos!"

Want to bet the rhino will still be there in an hour?

Here's one last reason:

Leadership is about language.

Best regards,

Pascal




In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Economy I and II - Never the Twain Shall Meet?
Strategy is Not About Doing What’s “Important”
Agriculture - The Next Frontier?
Lean Thinking in Software Design