Last week I met with a dozen Lean practitioners, leaders, consultants, and advisors for the purpose of understanding where we’re headed as both individuals and as a community. We had a very deliberate and structured discussion over the course of about five hours. There were many insightful points made and many keen observations of the Lean space. While the future is uncertain and many aspects of organizational management might look or feel different, many things will remain the same. Here are some thoughts shared throughout the day.
Our meeting took place last Saturday on the patio of a West Michigan country club. The patio was only a few yard behind the first tee. Over span of the five hours, I watched golfer after golfer tee off. Some hit the ball into the fairway an some into the trees. Those who hit the ball into the fairway tended to have sound fundamental golfing practices: a balanced and comfortable stance, proper alignment, correct distance to the ball, straight posture, firm yet relaxed grip, smooth backswing, smooth downswing, ideal impact position, and complete follow through.
Champions are those who are obsessive about sound fundamentals. They are deliberate about their practice and are able to endure the drudgery of correct repetition for hours on end without expecting immediate results. Superior performance is developed over time.
There seems to be a gap in leadership, according to the members of this group. It was actually described as a crisis of leadership. Leaders at all levels of organizations are overburdened and underskilled. They split their responsibilities between administrative tasks, projects, supervision, and leadership. Leadership is the hardest to see and the easiest to dismiss. When managers are consumed with other deliverables, taking the time to develop people can be nearly impossible. The reality is that most supervisors, managers, and executives have had very little, if any, leadership training. They typically know what they’re trying to accomplish as managers, but aren’t really aware of what it is they are trying to accomplish as leaders. If they were aware that their purpose was to develop people to make the organization’s vision a reality, they wouldn’t know where to start. It’s not about the individual manger. It’s more about the business climate and culture.
“Survival is Not Mandatory” ~ Deming
Lean can help anyone and any organization, except those who don’t want the help. So many organization need continuous improvement, from a Lean practitioner’s perspective, but don’t adopt a philosophy of improvement. Perhaps it’s because these organizations are successful enough–lucrative enough–that there is apprehension to go through the pain of change. It’s easier to stick with the devil you know when you don’t have a reason to think things will get worse.
It’s been said that an economic recession, or even depression, is expected around 2030. Of course, we don’t know what the future has in store for us. The economy, though, is cyclical. An economic downturn is coming. It’s just a question of when, how bad, and how long it will be.
Organizations that actively drive change are more likely to weather the storm than are those who react to change. Adaptability is an essential quality during a time of crisis. Those organizations that have robust processes that are continually changing for the better will be more likely to have the skills to change in ways to meet the challenges of an unpredictable economy. Those organizations that do not will be less likely to survive.
Continuous improvement has been around since the dawn of humanity. Granted, it hasn’t been articulated the way it is now, but it’s been around. Individuals within organizations change, improve, and adapt in many ways in all areas of their lives. When we enter the workplace, innovation and improvement can come to a standstill. There are political and cultural barriers to improvement within organizations. Silos, politics, and bureaucracy are only a few examples of how improvement is stifled.
Organizations that have very clear long-term goals, communicate exceptionally well, and foster an atmosphere of cooperation and creativity will be more likely to have a competitive edge.
By the end of the discussion, we came around to what we already knew. Lean is about developing people to solve problems. Our contribution to the world around us is to help people learn and grow, and in so doing we learn and grow ourselves.