Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Management Magical Mystery Tour

I strongly believe that one of the keys to a successful lean transformation is management involvement, not just management support. Involvement means full contact, hands-on, go and see for yourself approach. Involvement means leadership. That means more time away from the comfort of your desk and spending this time on the shop floor, in the office areas, in the warehouse, or going to customer sites.

Company executives have gotten so comfortable with seeing their company through the lenses of reports, emails, charts, graphs, boardroom meetings or what their staff tells them that many never venture out for a first hand experience. Charts and graphs are fine tools however I would prefer to know about my operation by experience. Which gives you a better understanding of Hawaii – a) reading travel brochure, looking at pictures and hearing stories by people who went there or b) by your own travel adventure walking on the warm sands of Maui, taking in a deep breathe of ocean air and seeing the waves crashing onto the shore?

Unfortunately, we get distorted glimpses of C-Level executives going “undercover” in TV shows to see first hand what is going on in their company as some great revelation. Kevin Meyer has a great post, MBWA is not a Gemba Walk, that I tend to agree with.

Closer to reality is the planned visit by the high level leader to a site which turns into huge parade of leaders trying to look their best, normally part of a Management Magical Mystery Tour. It’s just like if you invited your priest or pastor over for dinner, you get your house all cleaned up and a special meal is planned and prepared (not a typical night at home, right?).

The plant is notified well in advance so the facility is cleaned up (even to the extent of hiding stuff out of view until after the show) along a pre-determined tour route. Everybody practices and rehearses their lines for the presentation. The smell of fresh paint is hanging in the air. We are ready. Places everyone.

The show usually starts in a conference room with a presentation by the plant staff. If the plant manager is cunning, he will give the executive time to pass on some words of wisdom which can easily take up some of the time for the planned tour. At best, the tour will be rushed which minimizes the chance for problems to surface. It is even possible that the tour is canceled because the meeting, which there was great discussion, took all the time allocated for the visit. Then the C-Level and his entourage travel to the next site.

The only thing missing is the official tour t-shirts. What a wasted opportunity.

How can we get out of this management magical mystery tour routine. First, the C-level executives should visit so often that the event is not special. Second, a visit should not always be a planned event that prompts a show and tell. Third, the C-level executives should not make it a visit to punish but a visit to learn, teach and mentor. Fourth, visit with a purpose and not make it a social hour. It’s nice to talk with people but don’t let that become the mission. If a problem is found, help by coaching and not seeking to blame someone. This would be a good start.

A true lean transformation changes the way the entire business operates from sales to the shop floor. This requires a hands-on, personal approach that cannot be delegated to staff or outside consultants. It is a new way to run the business that requires behavior changes. It is not a project or event. It demands leadership based on first hand experience and it must start at the top.


Tim McMahon said...

Great Post Mike. I always judge the culutre of a lean plant by the tour. Does management give the tour or do frontline leaders and operators talk about their areas. When you get employee involvement for the tour it is a good sign of employee involvement in the factory.

Tim McMahon
A Lean Journey

Mike Wroblewski said...

Hi Tim, I agree that just walking through a plant and closely observing can give us a good idea of the state of affairs. Employee involvement is a huge positive indicator. The next is the role of management.

Anonymous said...

We had a fiberglass shop and when management came through we picked up all the mess, fire and environmental hazards and cleaned up. It was still bad, IMHO, but better. Afterwards I heard the only thing the manager commented on was a spider web in the upper corner of the building. Well, what could I say?

Mike Anderson said...

Excellent observations, Mike. When this topic came up on Daily Kos some weeks ago, someone left a comment that has stayed with me:

"The queen of England must think the world smells like fresh paint."

Unknown said...

I formerly worked in mfg. Witnessed many magical mystery tours. What a joke. Nothing to see here.

Anonymous said...

Poor Queen of England... If she only smells the fresh scent of paint on all her visits, she must be on her way to a serious case of lung cancer...