Monday, October 2, 2017

Where Lean Has Gone Wrong & What to Do About It, Part 1

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Thanks to Jim Womack for his insightful & heartfelt piece about this last month. (Jim is a friend, supporter and visionary, not to mention a person of decency & kindness. It’s fair to say that Jim & Dan Jones kicked off the Lean movement twenty years ago. Their insights have penetrating ever since.)

Here are a few thoughts, building on Jim’s points.

Lean is hard and only fully succeeds when there is aligned motivation on many levels. While it’s true that few transformations succeed without the senior leader’s full-hearted participation, that’s not enough.

We need a single-minded strength of purpose throughout the organization. We need front line team leaders and middle managers teaching & doing the right thing – even when nobody is watching. And that, of course, means a management system, (a concept I’ve tried to illuminate, especially in all my most recent stuff - Andy & Me and the Hospital.)

Single-minded strength of purpose also requires full alignment between the organization’s Purpose, and each member’s Purpose. Toyota’s corresponding alignment is more or less: “You do the work that needs doing and help us to improve, and you’ll have an engaging & well-paying job here for as long as you want it.”

I believe each organization needs to develop something similar, in accord with its culture. Do not copy Toyota or any other strong Lean company. This alignment must resonate with your team members, culture and industry. In a number of our partner firms, the deal is subtly different: “You do the work that needs doing and help us to improve, and you’ll learn & grow more than you ever thought possible, and will do cool things for as long as you want to.”

People systems including Recruitment, Succession Planning and Compensation are central of course, and a very common impediment. We have to start with Strategy Deployment, the senior leader’s core methodology.

Negative motivators can be helpful too. A number of Lean Pathways team members are Toyota alumni and remember the acronym CLM – Career Limiting Move! Any selfish, destructive, random, political disrespectful to a team member, the customer or the community would quality as a CLM. Any action that compromised Safety or Quality was a CLM. A few CLMs and your future at Toyota was in doubt. These are, in effect, a healthy version of the corporate antibodies.

One more thing. After a decade & a half of practice, our Lean Pathways team has lived through many transformations. In every blow your socks off, get out of town, let’s do the Moon Walk in slow motion transformation, (pardon the body English), the CEO, COO and their teams have a) made significant time for Executive Coaching, and b) been wide open to making corresponding changes in their day to day work.

More to come.

Best regards,


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