Thursday, March 26, 2009

Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick

One of the lessons I have learned while on the lean journey is that there is not a single, clear path to success. Each company must struggle to find the best path for them. We can’t just copy Toyota and expect it to work. In most instances, there are no wrong paths on the lean journey as long as we stay true to the principles, only perhaps just better paths than the one we have chosen.

Yet, in my experience, how we choose to go about trying to implement a lean manufacturing business system is critical and some ways are clearly wrong and dangerous. One such way is not so much a path rather the means of traveling down the path. We may focus on the right goals, using the right tools and understand the right principles yet we chose a steam roller as the means of travel.

This is the top-down, drive the change, my-way-or-the-highway, Leader-is-the-Law, autocratic style of management. A tell-tale sign of this Management By Intimidation (MBI) mode on the lean journey is the “Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick” approach where we use fear, manipulation or threats to get results or force change. It is a favorite approach used by many consultants and so called change agents.

Here are just a few examples of this autocratic style in action to drive change:

“Do as I say or else…”

“Do it my way because I am the boss.” (Parent-Child relationship)

“Do it my way because I know more about lean than you (Classic my lean experience stick is bigger that yours!)

“You have no choice; I already cleared it with your boss” (The go-over-the-head move)

“I have the blessing of (insert the name of our company President, Owner, VP, Big Cheese, Big Kohuna, Top Dog, etc) to do whatever it takes.” (Organizational Trump Card move)

“You are doing it all wrong, you don’t know anything about lean” (Public ridicule is an especially powerful tool)

“With your understanding of lean, I bet you think a prime fishing spot can be found on a value stream map?” (Ridicule with sarcastic wit)

“I learned from ex-Toyota Leaders, so I know what’s best.” (Show me your Toyota lineage papers)

“Get on the bus or …..” (Jim Collins fan)

“You did a good job but…” (Insincere praise followed by criticism)

“That is a horrific cell, no material flow. Either you are incompetent or stupid, which is it?” (Forget using insincere praise followed by criticism, get right down to it, baby)

“I may be harsh but at least I have the guts to say it” (Tactless Truth Trap usually used to justify harsh criticism)

“We don’t have time for nice, we need results NOW!” (It’s not my fault, blame the clock or calendar)

“We have material flow issues, I want you to put in a Kanban system here” (Make the decisions and give the solutions)

Have you heard any of these on the lean journey? Have you caught yourself saying any of them yourself?

Back in my first days of learning the lean approach, our Japanese sensei was persistent in getting us to change and came across quite rude and obnoxious in his manner. This did not help us see the waste any better and caused immediate friction. One of my fellow engineers became very vocal in challenging our Japanese sensei and his new ‘lean” ways. The next day our team, minus one vocal engineer, had a meeting with our Senior VP to tell us to we must get on board with lean or suffer the same fate. No doubt, this was a powerful message (big stick) to all of us at an early stage of our lean transformation. It certainly set the tone however at what price?

We may argue that the Theory X approach is efficient. Just look at the great results gained especially in a short period of time. The end justify the means right?

In my opinion, we can rationalize this type of management style to get to sleep at night however it will still be wrong when we wake up in the morning. Before rationalizing that I am perhaps too soft or not demanding enough, I only ask that you please consider a few questions first.

Is this “Speak Lean and Carry a Big Stick” approach inline with respect for people?

Which approach works better long term?

What happens when the autocratic leader leaves the company?

When we don’t involve people in making decisions, do we get buy in?

What about employee empowerment?

By establishing our command and control style, how can we expect people to have local ownership?

Are our associates following us because we built trust, understanding and teamwork or are they just more fearful?

Are we making people think and grow?

What kind of culture do we want to build in our company?

Do results matter more than people?

Each of us must decide what works best for us and our company, just choose wisely.

1 comment:

Mark Welch said...

Nicely written article, Mike. I have seen the autocratic style in action numerous times, also, and the normal result is wreckage, either in the form of fear, which robs everyone of continuous improvement; resentment, which severely comprimises constructive progress; and stunted development of people. Not that leaders/key influencers should be jelleyfish, either, but I've always respected, and got good results with leaders & co-workers who led with deep knowledge, commitment, patience, and humility. Unfortunately, these traits within one human being are all too uncommon.

Mark Welch