Have you ever been to a Kaizen meeting, or conducted a Gemba? Most of us, if we heard those words, would probably say ‘excuse you,’ but in the world of continuous improvement those are regular occurrences, or at least they should be.
Earlier this month I was on a business trip to a major manufacturer in Iowa. After training all day on ‘Train-the-Trainer’ a few of us decided to go out to dinner. Following our meals at a local establishment, we began discussing the next day’s events while simultaneously pulling out our smart phones to consult our calendars. Trying to set a time to have the department manager come and kick off the second day of training, we suggested she stop in around 7:45AM, to which she replied, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t. I have a Kaizen meeting.” At that moment I realized something so integral to what we do as a consulting company. There are some clients who talk a lot about their vision and what they want to become, and believe they can get there by cutting corners, implementing only bits and pieces of certain programs, never really committing to the full concept. And then there are those organizations that know where they want to go, and are willing to embody that vision with all of their heart, soul and mind. They implement policies to support it, they reallocate resources to sustain it, and they hold each and every one of their employees accountable for its success. It was clear that this company was the latter.
As a business that specializes in culture change and team development, we receive inquiries all the time from companies wanting to implement a change or culture shift around a continuous improvement initiative such as Lean or Toyota Production Systems. What lacks though, and I believe this is the number one reason these initiatives fail, is the lack of true commitment, a commitment that is expressed not just through words, but through actions. Leaders have a tendency to focus on quick fixes, wanting to implement large scale changes within a six month time, often negating the data that shows true culture change takes 3-5 years.
When we arrived at that plant in Iowa we were told that our training would take place in the ABS facility – a building they had constructed specifically for continuous improvement. Inside was a Great Room with walls lined from floor to ceiling with graphs, testimonies, pictures, and diagrams all communicating the same belief: “uniform is good; variation is bad.” Surrounding this open space were a number of different break-out rooms for team meetings. Each room was set up the exact same way, with the same equipment in each, and next to each door was a 5S photo diagram of the proper way to set up the room. The same was true in the kitchen, bathrooms and stock rooms. Each contained laminated photos expressing the correct way to stock it, clean it or sort it.
The more I interact with different businesses looking to implement continuous improvement projects, the more it becomes clear to me that the success of any initiative isn’t about competency; it’s around commitment. Sure we need to teach, train and educate, but you can be the smartest one in the room, and if you’re not committed, with a whole heart, then your knowledge means nothing.
Each business leader manages in his/her own way, but the most notable leaders are known for their ability to get it done, and get it done right. Those leaders that can communicate a clear vision, build dedication amongst their employees to the road ahead, empower when the time is right, and that are able to stay-the-course through the muck in the middle, will find themselves a step ahead when it comes time to implement their continuous improvement plan.
Mundane or ‘blah’ personality do little to fuel the fire needed to propel these initiatives forward, which was clear while I was in Iowa. The department manager was full of energy, interested in learning more, and had a personality that caused others to get excited. This begs the question – do you have the right attitude to drive your project to victory? Take the test and find out.
If you liked this, you may want to read these:
11 Bold Strategies for Employee Development in 2011
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