Lean Thinker Challenge #2

By Ron Pereira Updated on October 2nd, 2013

Well, it’s safe to say our first Lean Thinker Challenge was a hit… as of a few minutes ago there were 56 comments. Thank you to all of you who joined the conversation!

Now, let’s get to this week’s Lean Thinker Challenge!

The Situation

iStock_000007983011SmallIt’s Monday morning at 7:45 AM and you’re facilitating a kaizen event for the next 4.5 days.

You’ve been planning this particular event for 2 weeks. You’re ready.

You have an excellent plan for how each day of the event should go. Your objective is clear and management is supportive of the effort.

So, yes, all is good… with one exception. His name is Jimmy.

Jimmy is one of the most experienced operators in your company. There’s no job he can’t perform. Jimmy is hard working and genuinely does the best he can each and every day.

The problem is Jimmy just doesn’t buy into this whole lean thinking thing.

He’s gone with the flow for the last year and half as you and your colleagues have begun to implement a lean thinking culture. He’s also done his best to avoid being part of a kaizen event.

But he wasn’t able to duck this one… so he’s now sitting by himself in the back row of the training room with his arms crossed and an extremely annoyed look on his face. He simply doesn’t want to be here.

The Challenge

Now to the challenge. You need Jimmy this week. You need his experience. You need his ideas.

And you definitely need Jimmy to change his attitude as he could negatively influence the less experienced team members who definitely respect him.

So, how will you go about turning Jimmy’s frown upside down?

In other words, what specific steps will you take to turn Jimmy into your biggest lean thinking advocate?

  1. Kris

    October 2, 2013 - 10:42 am

    I will leave him alone during the training part. I won’t call on him or put him on the spot. But once we go to the shop I will put him in charge of a key task or project and give him full ownership. This task will be something I know he can be successful at.

    Once he is successful I will really thank him and will then have him assist some of the more junior team members. If all goes right he will begin to feel empowered and trusted and I will slowly bring him to my side.

    Then, at the report out Jimmy will be one of the featured presenters allowing him to share with leadership all he and his colleague did.

    • Ron Pereira

      October 2, 2013 - 11:00 am

      Thanks for the comment, Kris. Have you ever experienced a real life “Jimmy” situation?

  2. Ted Simon

    October 2, 2013 - 11:48 am

    Engage his mind and listen to him. Really listen.

  3. Phanny Schinner

    October 2, 2013 - 11:49 am

    Perhaps Jimmy felt neglected during the planning phase? As one of the most experienced and competent members of the team, he needs to be recognized and engaged in the entire process to gain his buy-in. The first step I would take is reaching out to Jimmy and ask for his input on what is being implemented thus far, e.g., what he agrees with and doesn’t agree with, how would he improve the process, and invite him to lead one or more sessions of the Kaizen event.

  4. Mike Hahn

    October 2, 2013 - 11:56 am

    If Jimmy has expertise I would publicly recognize that during the Kaizen event and steer his participation into positive avenues. I would acknowledge that the success of the kaizen depends on his participation and that his approach and his words have a lot of influence.
    I would also remind Jimmy and the team that a high profile kaizen event gives us a terrific amount of leverage to fix issues that may be driving some of his frustration. In addition, since he has taken a closed posture in the room, I would break that behavior by asking him to help facilitate the meeting by passing out papers, wrting on the board, leading teams etc. and like Kris, I would make him a key part of the presentation.

  5. Darrell Baldock

    October 2, 2013 - 12:01 pm

    The first step is to motivate Jimmy. Pull him aside and tell him the potential implications of him not participating and the value, his knowledge and experience, can bring to the event.

  6. Alex Chirciu

    October 2, 2013 - 12:02 pm

    There is an assumption: “You’ve been planning this particular event for 2 weeks. You’re ready. You might be wrong”.
    Team members are essential for a Kaizen event. Jimmy has his own needs and values that were not properly identified. Maybe one of the “team members who definitely respect him” can be asked to convince Jimmy.
    Not mentioning the fact that the lean thinking culture implementation has started a year and a half ago. Maybe there was something wrong from the very beginning: communication, assessment of interested parties, what is critical to employees. The organization needs to understand that its future lies in the success of the value-adding employees, people like Jimmy. One of the roles of a Lean Six Sigma expert is to convince ”hard working who and genuinely do the best they can each and every day”, that we are part of a team which really values their experience and commitment.
    I would be more careful on change management.

    • Brian

      October 6, 2013 - 6:27 am

      You (John and Steve D below) are onto something with your comments about assumptions.
      I always try and assess a project as a stratecic operation-LEAN is strategy deployment afterall. In doing so as a facilitator or leader, I should be identifying the key players (team members), their interests, facts and assumptions. The lead-in for the question this week is weak on facts and strong on assumptions about Jimmy.
      My perspective (lesson learned) is that I should have done more research of why Jimmy has resisted LEAN for so long. Since I did not, my first goal would be to draw those out on day one…and that is done by getting the whole group to create a shared vision or experience from the start. This also estabishes trust among the group-if I am concerned about Jimmy, I know full well the rest of the room is too.
      A good tool may be to apply the “rocket model of team effectiveness” (Curphy and Hogan 2004) to team building and performance.

  7. Bain

    October 2, 2013 - 12:02 pm

    I would first have a private conversation with Jimmy to find out what’s going on and why he does not want to be here. I believe by having a 1×1 with him I can address any concerns he has with the week, and the lean work going on. I know I’m not going to turn the guy into my biggest support overnight, but if I can get him to trust me after this week I see that as a win.

    • Louise

      October 3, 2013 - 9:26 am

      I agree with Bain. It sounds like a private conversation is long overdue. Listening to his issues and concerns will go a long way toward moving forward in a productive way. Past expereince has proven to me that “Jimmys” are usually formed by misunderstandings and/or missed opportunities to engage them earlier. The 1X1 can most likely turn into an opportunity to recruit Jimmy to take a lead role during the event.

  8. john

    October 2, 2013 - 12:25 pm

    The trouble brewing is expressed up front in the problem statement. It’s not that Jimmy is against the “stuff”. The trouble is that it has not been acknowledged to now just how much Jimmy knows and already does “right”. And now he is in training where the implication is, to his outlook anyway, that Jimmy doesn’t know how to do his job, does not produce successful results, and so now Jimmy has to be trained because of it. It probably is simply not so, and there are various degrees of Jimmy everywhere, in all of the training programs – in every session that has been held so far!
    Sometimes the biggest part of this type of training, like lean concepts, is not actually the “concept” at all. The concepts very often are already there, especially for the people who are very close to the work. Sometimes the biggest issue for those close to the work is really the language, a vocabulary. For example the design engineer can easily get all hung up over the difference between a “bolt” and a “screw”. The engineer says it is about whether there is a “nut” used– or not. But to the front line worker, well if it uses a “wrench”, then its a “bolt” regardless. The SMART engineer learns to talk in the front line worker’s language, and use it. He doesn’t necessarily strive to make the mechanic or machinist speak the language of the engineer. What is the point of that? So here is Jimmy, who may actually be a “lean thinker”– (has anybody asked?) and now he HAS to be in this seminar listening to stuff he feels he already knows, except for all of these words and phrases that are—- from Japanese language! Jimmy believes— why are we doing stuff in Japanese? Why not in our own language? (This is a really good question isn’t it?) Could it be (Jimmy is thinking) that all of this foreign language stuff is just to make this Kaizen leader promote his own importance? (Another good question isn’t it?)

    So— considering all of that, what DO you do? See, Jimmy is only a visible thermometer for what is actually flowing throughout most of the organization and the Kaizen membership. A large faction will be “going along” because— well the best way to get along with the management is to go along. They will nod yes, volunteer agreement, and point out how this Kaizen stuff is the most amazing, fantastic stuff ever, and we need more of it! When pointed out that the company CEO is behind it 100%, the seminar members will point out “but of course— I am but a mere shadow in his brilliance!” But actually for success of the local organization, Jimmy is probably the most important in the room, maybe in the organization. He is a strong personality, a leader, and whatever outlooks are coming from Jimmy are what is really happening from most of the organization just below the horizon.

    It may be time to recruit Jimmy, and the more expressive others like him to be a part of the leadership of the operations improvement efforts. Since there were a few (I thought) good questions mentioned so far, a really good one is: what took so long for that idea to appear? Why wasn’t he an “insider” right from the very beginning?

  9. Dwain Scott

    October 2, 2013 - 12:32 pm

    I have had a few Jimmy’s in my time leading Kaizen Events!

    What I learned over time with trial and error is to lean on their knowledge from the start of the Kaizen. Start by asking them what problems do they see in the area you area going to be covering and listen with intent. Don’t shrug them or they will grow colder to the event. In time they will do all but take the lead and become your best asset during the Kaizen.

    I had one that did not care anything about it now he leads Kaizens on a regular basis.

  10. Riaz

    October 2, 2013 - 12:48 pm

    I would present a tricky situation and further explain to the audience that Jimmy who is sitting at the back is a very senior colleague and has many a times faced these dire situation and got out of them. I would up the ante and ask him to give a real life example thus opening him up. Once his confidence will be back and he will know how important it is for him to take the lead, he will become a more positive influence on the event.

  11. Jason Aaron

    October 2, 2013 - 12:50 pm

    In the VA we run into this a lot, but luckily we have some great facilitators and we’ve noticed the “soft skills” are key but they begin in the planning stage… “set a great stage if you want a great performance.” I recommend the article called Buy-in vs Ownership (you can Google it for the pdf)… and the author’s website: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ for exercises to foster dialogue in the planning stages. Once you’re in the Kaizen Event I think most of the advice above is worth testing, and it also helps if the team holds each other accountable rather than the coach having to step in to intervene. Remind the group to enforce its ground rules and post a “parking lot” on the wall so that the team can record concerns that may distract from the tasks that need to get done today. Don’t allow the process to be sabotaged, but use the opportunity for the team to learn to regulate each other also.

  12. Heath

    October 2, 2013 - 12:55 pm

    The thing is, Jimmy’s usually are lean thinkers already at the principle level. They insist on working according to standards, they hate to pass on defects and they hate waste. In fact they hate waste so much that they insulate themselves from it by creating their own standard work which maximizes their own productivity.
    I know a Jimmy and he requires consistent coaching to show how both his local productivity and his abrasive attitude can cause problems. We have many ups and downs. I have to walk the walk too because he despises a hypocrite.
    I like Kris’ approach and I will try that in my next project.

  13. Mark

    October 2, 2013 - 1:03 pm

    I have been “Jimmy” at times and have told myself that I am already over worked and under appreciated, so why should I take on more work. Especially when management takes the credit for it. The what’s in it for me scenario! I’ve also been the one, to move ideas into the teams to get their thought processes going and implement cost saving projects resulting in major savings! Jimmy’s frustration can come from many different areas of his life, not necessarily from his work life. Gain his trust and confidence first! Define what is expected of him and make sure he clearly understands what you want from him. Recognition is important to the “Jimmy’s” of the world! That goes for the whole team not just the leaders. Never. not listen or walk away when they are trying to explain or express their views.

  14. Joe Brennan

    October 2, 2013 - 1:05 pm

    An earl step in our training plan is to introduce ourselves to each other. We do that with a question – are your a willing participant, neutral or a “hostage”?

    Sometimes people are “willing” to attend and sometimes they are “ordered” to attend.

    We close by promising the team that we will work to convert hostages into willing participants and re-check their attitude when we finish formal training.

    Obviously, we expect the hostages to follow all rules but if they become disruptive, we work to preserve the team and mission – up to and including “voting them off the island”.

    Engaging them in the mission is critical to convert them into willing participants.

  15. John

    October 2, 2013 - 1:29 pm

    Tons of great thoughts here.
    I am always reminded time and again, no matter how much the numbers, or tools, or meeting styles, just how much it is all about people—- and their differences, too.

  16. Mark Graban

    October 2, 2013 - 1:44 pm

    The planning should have included “Jimmy.” Big mistake to not get him involved earlier. At this point, it’s probably worth postponing the event, apologizing to Jimmy, and explaining to management that the planning was botched – lesson learned and with a countermeasure plan for how that will be avoided in the future.

    • Ron Pereira

      October 2, 2013 - 1:51 pm

      Mark, what if Jimmy is wearing an Ohio State T Shirt? Does your answer change? 🙂

  17. David

    October 2, 2013 - 5:38 pm

    Like others, I’ve worked with a couple of Jimmys and if I’m honest I’ve been a Jimmy myself from time to time. It these cases it seemed that Jimmy has the potential to be the biggest advocate or the biggest antagonist to lean. They usually care a lot but can hide it behind a mask of indifference or opposition. There have been many great comments made already but I wanted to share two examples with you.

    The first was a guy who had so much influence on the shop floor that he almost singlehandedly blocked every improvement project. It all turned around when the company stood up for his son, also an employee, in a legal issue. From that point on he decided that the company cared and he became the improvement champion.

    Another instance was when a new manager started and was getting a lot of push back from one of his team members. The new manager was a lean advocate but wasn’t getting much traction. The change came when the Jimmy noticed that the new guy stayed back every night to sweep the floor. He decided that a manager who was willing to work unpaid overtime to do such a menial task might just be a good guy after all.

  18. Dr. Khalid Abulmajd

    October 2, 2013 - 6:51 pm

    If Jimmy cannot initially commit, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Most often, he cares, and he is caught up in a process of doubt about improvement success using a new methodology. And in a hard working skilled employees like him This process my precede a high commitment. As a team leader I should know how each member prefers to get advice, and how to communicate the vision appropriately to each team member. Ignoring him and starting the project won’t solve the problem, but may increase his frustration and affect all team members. I shall meet him and validate his importance to my team and ask him for suggestions on how to solve this problem (may be he has a hidden causes I don’t knew) ,. I think this may help to change his attitude.

  19. Mike

    October 3, 2013 - 6:58 am

    I like using a Huckleberry Finn approach. Recall when Huck was whitewashing the fence and he made it seem like such a fun thing to do that before long, other kids were begging to do the whitewashing? For Jimmy, let him sit quietly in the corner but make sure that once the activities begin, he is at least there with the team. I and the others can start doing stuff, having a good time, even laughing some. Eventually, Jimmy will say something, most likely criticizing something that is being done and there is the opening. Ask Jimmy how he would do it and just stand back and watch his skills come to the forefront.

  20. Greg Hershman

    October 3, 2013 - 7:39 am

    There’s an old story about a company running a United Way drive. The company had always prided itself in being a community oriented company and they only needed Joe’s contribution to reach 100% participation. Joe’s Supervisor talked to him but he couldn’t get Joe to contribute.

    “Nope” said Joe, “I just can’t do it.”

    The Production Manager next talked to Joe. “Joe, you’ve been a great employee for almost 20 years and we need your contribution to reach 100%.”

    “Nope” said Joe, “I just can’t do it.”

    Finally, the President sat down with Joe. “Joe, we have been friends since you started almost 20 years ago. I value you as a friend and as an employee. However, if you don’t contribute and get us to 100% participation, I’m going to have to let you go.”

    Joe said “Sure, I’ll contribute.”

    When Joe’s co-workers heard that he had contributed, they asked him, “Joe, the Super and the Production Manager both begged you to contribute and you wouldn’t do it. Why did you do it after talking to the President?”

    Joe said, “Nobody explained it like the President?”

  21. Mark H. Davis

    October 3, 2013 - 7:50 am

    A lot of great ideas here. Interestingly — and perhaps not surprisingly — most of the strategies involve creating “pull” vs. employing “push.” Works with personalities as well as processes, giving the person the empowerment and opportunity to make a choice for involvement, drawing them out to draw them in. The cynic would say it is “sneaky”; the pragmatist would say it is “savvy.” Regardless of your viewpoint, it is effective. I see it as the most compassionate and respectful approach, and further validation that pull is the natural flow-creater.

  22. Steve Daukas

    October 3, 2013 - 8:27 am

    With little more up front planning this could have been adverted. First I have been trained only to take volunteers, Jimmy is not one of them. But if Jimmy has a lot of influence on the floor, then I would have taken him very early in the process and not one and half years later.

    But now I have him, I agree you can not put him on the spot and look bad in front of his friends and team. I would have talked with him before the event, since I was planning it for two weeks, and build him up that he was a vital part of the team’s success and we needed him.

    You need to find out what was causing Jimmy to act the way he was, and correct it and use him as the star.

    This is the story that if you have a bully, then you have to change him and the rest will follow and you then have created a dynamic team. It works, I have done it.

  23. Naresh Paneru

    October 3, 2013 - 9:49 am

    I would make Jimmy more responsible to this task, I mean I would make Jimmy a team leader for this task so that he has to perform the job nicely. Because by doing this he can’t blame anyone otherwise he will blame others for not doing well as well as he will be demotivated every time and try to fail (implementation of Lean) the project.

    For me, handling negative people is to make them positive by giving them more responsibility and authority on that work and persuade him saying that you are the best person for this job so I have decided to do give this responsibility to you. If we will do this kind of practice the negative people turns to positive.

  24. JK

    October 3, 2013 - 11:00 am

    I have met a few Jimmy’s in my work and they are all different so the notion of providing encouragement and Jimmy changes his stripes does not always work.
    Few examples:
    Jimmy 1 Guy with chips on both shoulders and very influential in the warehouse he was working. I got around him with encouragement and eventually got him to be the team leader on one of the Kaizens and now is a great supporter of Lean in the organisation.
    Jimmy 2 Supervisor and ran the only CNC cutting machine in the workshop. I called a meeting to review overdue orders but Jimmy did not show so I went looking for him and insisted he would attend. We reviewed all overdue orders and made an estimate of the root cause. Shortly a pattern emerged and it became clear the CNC area was responsible for most. Several excuses were presented (mostly short capacity). Completed a detailed schedule of the CNC area after the meeting with Jimmy and discovered based on his estimates the backlog would be cleared by working 3 full days. In fact the CNC area had capacity to handle double what was going through it. Became clear that Jimmy had hijacked the company by controlling the rate of supply from the CNC machine for over 12 months. Jimmy thankfully left of his own volition.
    I have met a number of Jimmy’s who are Managers in their areas. Some turn and become strong supporters of Lean but most leave. I would be interested in hearing from anyone else on this.

    • Anonymous

      October 3, 2013 - 12:49 pm

      Wow, a lot of rose-colored glasses being worn. After a year-and 1/2, Jimmy should already know that the culture is get on-board or get off. Especially if he was such an asset to the company. I would have gone to the sponsor as soon as I knew I had a Jimmy in my group after this long of an engagement. By this time, most of the Jimmies should have already found greener pastures.

  25. David

    October 4, 2013 - 1:05 pm

    In reaction to the Situation as posed: In the first hour of the Event, set the expectation of open, candid discussion, active participation, and respect. Be very clear on what the Event is expected to produce. Ensure it’s a safe environment provided expectations are being met. Then spend the time required at the beginning of the Event to review the current situation and problem statement, WITH DATA. Ensure everyone has participated in the review and feedback (Catchball), including Jimmy. Call on him and others specifically when their participation is trailing off. Assign facilitation activities to those who are disruptive or need encouragement to get involved. TRY TO MAKE IT FUN. If all of that does not work, try to disarm Jimmy through a 1:1 with him by asking him for his active support. Get his commitment. If that isn’t working, then and only then do you escalate to the Executive Champion to audit the Event. They must be willing to drop in on short notice.

    Proactively: Ensure the Executive Champion is doing a good job capturing the hearts and minds of everyone in the organizetion and setting the expectation of participation, when asked, quick wins, and accountability. During the pre-planning phase of the Event, include Jimmy and other key stakeholders in the development of the background, current condition, and target state. Invite them to help identify the Event team members (SIPOC) and give them specific roles before, during, and after the Event. Always, always, always show respect and sincere appreciation for their involvement. This should serve to disarm Jimmy before the Event. The above “reactive” steps can still be used if Jimmy comes in unprepared to play.

  26. Nick Simpson

    October 4, 2013 - 9:46 pm

    I use Ice breakers before every event especially to get the operators talking. One of my faves is getting them to write on a post it somthing that no one in the room knows about you and I put them all on the wall and we talk about each one. I had one once “I met my wife in a car crash” ! If that didn’t work with jimmy I would just make him lead some of the kaizen for example if they were going to go look see get jimmy to lead the way after all he is the expert

  27. Mark White

    October 4, 2013 - 10:51 pm

    Wow! A year and a half! Is the Lean implementation coming from a command and control philosophy? Or a front line staff that you and your colleagues should have spent a great deal of time in the Gemba. Any time spent in the Ohno circle? Was Jimmy,your most experienced operator, ever asked what he sees as problems? What work arounds he has had to put in place to deliver a quality product? Has Jimmy ever been asked how he would resolve a quality issue? I would think you would have had a few problems during the year and a half that could have been used to draw in your opponents to start them along the proponent path. Heck, maybe something during your preparation period to be fresh in the participants minds.

    Not sure what your kaizen event agenda is, however, I would think that you could bring him into the fold little by little and acknowledge his wisdom when he does contribute.

    One thing we did in a management development program, I was involved with, was to list the number of years experience each person had and totalled them up. If Jimmy has as much experience as we are led to believe, work in a statement, along the lines, with this amount of experience in the room, especially with such a seasoned veteran as Jimmy, we should be able to accomplish anything we put our minds to this week.

    Bottom line is you knew he was going to be a participant in the event. You knew his position on the Lean initiative. You had two weeks to put counter-measures in place. Pretty serious oversight in your preparation.

    A little saying I heard over 30 years ago and has stuck with me since; Inch by inch life’s a cinch! Yard by yard it’s very hard! You are deep in the yard by yard piece.

  28. Linda

    October 7, 2013 - 2:25 pm

    I had a ‘Jimmy’ in one of my lean events once. It was only the second event I had ever ran so I was not completely prepared for ‘Jimmy’! I decided to leave him where he first sat at the back of the room until I could find an opening to involve him. This didn’t happen! Jimmy disrupted the whole morning session with negative comments so at the first break I gave him the option of staying but only speaking up if it was something positive or if he could not manage that then he should not come back into the training. To my absolute dismay he didn’t come back to join us. However, the remaining team did stay and had fun learning new things. Then guess what? After lunch Jimmy asked me if he could join back in. I welcomed him back into the training session, I never mentioned anything he had said earlier in the morning, I simply involved him and pretended like nothing had happened. Jimmy ended up being the main driver behind the improvements, he bought into the methods completely and he was the perfect bridge between management and the shop floor. After a few months I asked him why he wanted to join us again, ‘it’s simple’ he said ‘you were having way more fun than I was’!

  29. Graeme

    October 8, 2013 - 3:18 am

    Often in these situations, this type of individual is already well organised and knows the best way to do things. Often they say, ‘lean is a waste of time – you should just do it.’ To get past the initial defensiveness, I would agree with Jimmy and add, “But people don’t just do it, do they? This Kaizen Event is about highlighting the things that get in the way and which stop people from doing it.”
    I always maintain that the best way to get people on board is to find what frustrates them – and then fix it. So I would treat Jimmy as the expert in the room, and ask for his advice and what he sees the greatest problems and opportunities are.

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