Monday, August 22, 2016

Leadership in Times of Crisis

By Pascal Dennis

We will succeed beyond any possibility of doubt. If anyone doubts this, let them leave now.

That’s Field Marshal Montgomery upon assuming command of the British 8th Army in North Africa in 1942.

Morale was in the sub-basement. The 8th Army had suffered repeated defeats at the hands of German General Rommel.

Montgomery, in his trademark black beret, made a great effort to appear before troops as often as possible, frequently visiting various units and making himself known to the men. He exuded confidence and energy, based on deep knowledge and experience.

Fellow generals, Brooke and Alexander, were astonished by the transformation in atmosphere when they visited on 19 August, less than a week after Montgomery had taken command.

What’s this got to do with business transformation?

Change is hard, change hurts. You lose more battles than you win. ”Fall down seven times, get up eight…” our Toyota senseis taught.

General Montgomery exuded kaizen spirit – the indomitable feeling that we will prevail, in spite of everything.

Cheerfulness is a big part of kaizen spirit. Not the shallow, Pollyanna version, but cheerfulness based on a frank, mature assessment and acceptance of reality, warts and all.

‘Yes, we are all messed up. We have many weaknesses, and have had many failures. But we are learning fast, and getting stronger every day, and we’re going to do this.’

Kaizen spirit is difficult to sustain in a world of instant gratification, fragmented attention, and non-stop chatter.

Which makes it all the more valuable.

Best regards,


Monday, August 15, 2016

Content Follows Form or Acting Your Way to New Thinking

By Pascal Dennis

By walking, I found out where I was going
Irving Layton

Acting your way to new thinking is easier than the other way round. (Tip of the hat to my colleague Mike Rother.)

That’s why Politeness is called the door to the Great Virtues – (another tip of the hat, this time to Andre Comte-Sponville.)

Politeness is pure form. Our children don’t understand why they have to behave in a certain way. But the more they do it, the more they come to understand Gentleness, Humility, Compassion and other great virtues.

Content follows form. May I suggest that form helps to create content? The imitation of virtue over time becomes the real thing.

What’s this got to do with Lean management? Quite a bit.

Lean excellence rests on a set of mental models or mindsets, which I’ve described in some detail (Getting the Right Things Done). These include:

  • Leaders are teachers

  • Go see for yourself

  • Make problems visible

  • Engage everybody in improvement work…

What’s the best way to change one’s behavior? Why, through a set of routines – even if you don’t fully understand why you’re doing them.

Understanding will come: “Holy cow, I had no idea what was actually happening. If I hadn’t gone to see for myself, I’d have made a disastrous mistake!”

Or, “Good thing we committed to involving the front line in planning our launch, and giving them the authority to stop and fix problems. It’s our best launch ever!”

Or, “I thought standardized work would hinder my creativity. But it’s freeing me up. I now have time to reflect, coach and make strategy!”

In our old Toyota plant, I often didn’t understand why we did certain things – daily stand-up meetings, scheduled & purposeful gemba walks, PDCA cycles around all significant activities and the like.

But I did all these things because that’s what you did in a Toyota factory, and because I intuited a deeper, richer pattern, a chessboard grander than any I’d imagine before.

By walking I found out where I was going.

Best regards,


Monday, August 8, 2016

Strategy Deployment & Language

By Pascal Dennis

In the beginning was the Word...

So begins the Old Testament, which Canadian scholar Northrop Fry called The Great Code, the blue-print for Western culture.

Indeed, language reflects how we think, how we experience life, and who we are.

What's this got to do with strategy & strategy deployment?

Strategy is story-telling, strategy is language.

But what if our language is foggy? What's a team to make of head-scratchers like the following?

"We will leverage our World Class Operating Capabilities” or “We'll reshape pricing tactics to effectively manage demand while sustaining market access.”

My advice, head for the hills!

Sorry, but such language often means the team is clueless.

"We really don't understand what's happening, so let's slather on the buzzwords!"

I spend much of my time coaching senior leaders. My advice to them?

Ban fuzzy words & phrases!

Out with cliché! Down with the latest buzzwords!

Sayonara to 'leverage,' 'synergy,' 'disintermediation,' and 'robust' -- (to pick just a few).


We were lucky at our old Toyota plant.

Our Japanese senseis' grasp of English was very basic, which meant we had to express ourselves clearly & simply.

As a result, despite the language barrier, we communicated beautifully.



Monday, August 1, 2016

One for the Docs

By Pascal Dennis

Doctors are taking a lot of heat these days. Medical mishaps are front page news. A demanding & vocal public no longer accepts substandard patient safety & quality results.

The profession and industry are being held to the same demanding standards as industries like automotive, aerospace and consumer goods. Moreover, physicians are frequently portrayed as the bad guys, the ones holding the organization back.

Much of my personal practice entails coaching senior healthcare leaders, many of them physicians.

The profession is in the midst of great change. Used to be, most docs worked for themselves. Now most docs work for large organizations, and the trend will only accelerate.

Are physicians used to working in teams in complex value streams in large organizations? Do they learn the principles of production physics and system dynamics that govern such value streams?

Does medical school include instruction in the Toyota Production System or in management systems at all, the countermeasures to the daunting Safety, Quality, Delivery and Cost problems hospitals face?

The healing arts entail a demanding apprenticeship. My late father-in-law, the great Dr Robert Guselle, ran Ontario’s biggest clinic. Bob was an intuitive Lean thinker, and early on grasped the promise Toyota methods entailed for healthcare.

But he was a realist too. “I spent ten years in the hermetically sealed tube called medical school. I learned to be imperious and infallible. Changing that mindset is difficult…”

And yet, that’s what we’re beginning to see in a growing number of major hospitals – physician-leaders changing and deepening their mental models and management style, and opening up to learning and proven methods from very different industries.

So here’s a deep bow to the physician-leaders who are spear-heading heart-felt transformation in major hospitals around the world.

You all don`t have to do this. It`s heavy lifting, it’s humbling and sometimes hurts. (You could go to the golf course, cottage, fishing hole…)

I`m lucky enough to work with some of you.

In my mind you walk through porticoes of honor.

Best regards,