Finding Our Own Way

By Ron Pereira Updated on April 2nd, 2015

Get out of the tunnelBy Ron Pereira

“I invented nothing new.  I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom where centuries of work.” -Henry Ford

My colleague, Steve, recently experienced a rotten customer service situation with a company we have long admired for being a leader in their space.  In fact, we use this company’s product every single day at Gemba Academy and like it very much.

But, here was Steve, on the phone with one of their customer service agents desperately seeking help for a rather serious issue we were experiencing.

Guess what happened?  He got no help.  In fact, the customer service rep told him he had to submit an online ticket and someone would get back to him.

Now, Steve is a very level headed, respectful, lean thinking leader who knows how to deal with crisis.  As such, he calmly summarized the situation with this customer service agent with a simple statement, “So, what you’re saying is you won’t help me, correct?”

The agent seemed caught off guard and simply replied, “Correct.”

Please Allow 3 Business Days for a Response

And, as if that wasn’t enough, I recently emailed another company we have longed looked at as an excellent model for how to conduct business.  This company is also a leader in their space and, like the company Steve dealt with above, we also pay to use this company’s product.

So I emailed a rather simple question to them and here’s what I received back from an obvious autoresponder.

Thank you for contacting <company name>. A service ticket has been automatically created and assigned to your inquiry.

Your ticket number is 00122545.
Please allow three (3) business days for a response.

3 days?  I had a simple question.  In 3 days I’ll probably forget the original question!

Update: The actual response rate was 5 days… c’est la vie.

Careful Who You Look Up To

Now, to be sure, these two situations really helped me, and my Gemba Academy colleagues, realize that very few companies (including ours) are perfect.

We also learned that it’s OK to study other companies in order to see if there are things we can learn from… but, in the end, we have to find our own way.

Assembling Discoveries

I did my best to reflect deeply on Henry Ford’s “I invented nothing new…” quote.

I think it’s obvious he meant that he learned to “assemble” many of the good things he learned from other companies into what Ford became under his watch.

But, I also imagine, he learned many lessons of what not to do from others.

What about Toyota?

Now, we lean practitioners spend a lot of time studying Toyota.  And for good reason.  They’re an incredible company.

But Toyota isn’t infallible.  And after talking to Toyota employees, and past employees, I’ve learned they don’t ask to be copied.  In fact, they discourage it to some degree since the true power of Toyota lies in their ability to think critically and solve problems.

One former Toyota associate told me TPS really stands for the “Thinking Production System.”  I agree.

Finding Our Own Way

So, yes, I do believe we should study – and learn from – other excellent companies.  But, more importantly, I believe we need to always remember that, in the end, we must find our own way.

To be sure the way will rarely be easy… but if we focus on the key principles of respect for humanity and continuous improvement nothing, and I do mean nothing, is impossible.

  1. Christian Plaschy

    April 15, 2015 - 3:01 pm

    Dear Ron,

    Thanks for this great blog.

    You are right, this mass-handling of customer requests has really a lot of unpleasant effects on certain situations. And mainly it loads a big time investment on the customer side, because as a customer I need to fill in sooo many forms and log in to sooo many different internet platforms. I would prefer to use my time differently and more productive.

    What do you think about my following suggestion: Optimization of the working culture by applying Joy, Inc. in combination with Toyota Kata as follows – Everybody in a big team is a coach and has a coach. The coaches spend at least once per month 15 minutes with their learners and ask the following preliminary question: What do you need to feel more joy at work? (mainly focused on areas that they can directly or easy influence) – then the 5 Toyota Kata questions follow. So the coaches just ask these 6 questions and listen actively to support the learners to develop their enthusiasm and passion and continuous improvement skills. How can I improve this combination approach to have a successful implementation in a Supply Chain department?



    • Ron Pereira

      April 15, 2015 - 3:13 pm

      Hi Christian, I think this is a fantastic idea! The key, at least to me, would likely be to ensure the “coach” actively listened to his team. And by listen I mean with his/her ears and his/her actions. Moving through any problem solving process can become robotic when we forget we’re dealing with real people with real problems (at work and outside of work).

  2. Rob Thompson

    May 19, 2015 - 9:19 am

    Companies tend not to measure the hidden indirect external failure costs, such as the ones highlighted here. Taguchi introduced the concept that the total quality cost must include the overall loss to society. This should be over the lifetime of the product or service. Long term costs would include damage to brand reputation and loss of customer satisfaction. These could then impact market share. Of course, these are all difficult to measure. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

    Harrington, said, “measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

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