Tips for Lean Managers

How to Motivate People to Change, Part 3

By Jon Miller Updated on May 15th, 2017

How do you motivate the people on the trailing edge of the bell curve? The so-called “anchor draggers” or CAVE people tend to attract the most attention or concern during the process of change. I wish we had time to bring everyone along and find ways to motivate those of us with the worst attitudes, but we don’t.
Improvement should not be negotiable. When working within a TPS environment it is not only your job to “do you job” but to improve it.
When addressing the issue with leaders of how to motivate the people who simply will not go along with a good thing, we speak of “sacrificial lambs”. You need to make an example of people who put up a strong and unreasonable resistance to doing kaizen. Management sends a clear message that “this is how we will do things” by removing the person who is an obstacle from the organization.
At Toyota everyone is expected to implement one improvement idea per month. One a month? Beyond a certain point, how much more self-actualization can a person handle? After all, you are coming to your job to work, not to realize your creative potential, right?
(If you nodded your head, you might want to stop following those sheep that are headeding for the chopping block.)
People talk of there being something “in the air” at Toyota, and it might be the buzz of all of those minds thinking, thinking, thinking… Over decades, these one-per-month ideas end up being millions of ideas across tens of thousands of employees.
Called soi-kufu (創意工夫), Toyota’s Creative Idea Suggestion System is possibly the longest continuing and most successful improvement methodology today. It is a great process for motivating workers and for sustaining improvement. So simple, yet so powerful.
But it just doesn’t abbreviate well. Creative Idea Suggestion System doesn’t make a good acronym, and everybody knows it’s not a real Lean tool unless you can make a TLA out of it, right?
Not only that, “suggestion system” is a misnomer for several reasons in that there is no suggestion box or centralized evaluation system for ideas (there is a decentralized system for evaluation, centralized system for rewards). So what else can we call it?
The phrase 創意工夫 is troublesome because 創意 literally means something more like “creative thought, will or intent.” And for 工夫 it is even harder to get the nuance just right, meaning something like to “to devise” or “to modify something to make it better” or “to scheme” but in a positive way.
What does this have to do with how to motivate people to change? These words, and the original “creative intent” behind choosing them are vitally important, I think. There are perfectly good ways to say “suggestion system” in Japanese, but Toyota did not. The 創意工夫 process at Toyota does not exist primarily to take out cost, but to help people develop the “will to create a better way”.
Go to part 1
Go to part 2

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