Difficulties With Changing To A Lean Culture Part 08 By Mike Thelen


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Difficulties With Changing To A Lean Culture Part 08 By Mike Thelen

  1. 1. Difficulties with Changing to a Lean Culture: Part VIII Why didn’t it work? Mike Thelen shares experiences with implementation failures in Part VIII. We should begin with a general definition. Implementation failure can be total failure, where a business reverts to traditional manufacturing. It can be partial failure, where the actions aren’t quite matching the words. It can be short-term failure, where a business continues to pursue Lean theory, but the actions are temporarily suspended. Each of these failures has unique characteristics, but there are many similar characteristics that can be addressed. Using the common 80/20 rule, it is more productive to focus on the 20% of factors that impact the 80% of problems. Implementation failures are not caused by the front line employees (operators, hourly associates, etc). This even includes Union shops. That needs to be clarified before moving forward. Until a company can accept that as an axiom, there can be no progress. Once that is accepted, the process of introspection can begin. What causes implementation failures, then? There are entire books that cover this specific question. “How to Prevent Lean Implementation Failures” does an excellent job of covering many factors in a simple, easy-to-read format. Beyond theory, what really seems to be the culprit behind failures? Personal experiences are always more useful than generalized theory. The following factors are based on such experiences. Goals Goals are often in conflict with Lean implementations. Each member of management is held to a goal that ultimately contradicts Lean theory. Some examples include: general inventory goals without structure, employee performance judged on standards (commonly known as earned minutes), monthly sales dollar goals (not delivery performance) and machine absorption (which contradicts Inventory goals). This is best known as Management by Results. If Executive leadership does not change the goal structure, management will continue to focus on meeting traditional goals, as that is the performance measurement used on annual evaluations. This action must be lead from the top and must be universal. If leadership attempts to judge Lean areas on Lean metrics and Traditional areas with Traditional metrics, those areas will conflict. This is true for areas beyond manufacturing also. Often, financial service employees are held to traditional accounting measurements. Those measurements contradict measurements from Lean production areas. When this occurs, accountants will encourage actions that will hamper Lean performance. Fear Fear of change can also lead to implementation failures. There is always fear. That is an unavoidable obstacle. Not all fear is negative. Fear can act as a check and balance to implementation. When fear moves beyond a check and balance and becomes a roadblock, it must be addressed. Jobs change. Roles change. People struggle with jobs and roles changing, but that is not the ultimate driver of fear. People fear loss. If loss of employment can occur due to the implementation, there will be no support and the implementation will fail. No company that honestly pursues Lean will eliminate employees due to the implementation. Those who claim to be pursuing Lean but conduct a layoff are using the word, not the definition. People also fear loss of position or pay. If implementation leads to downgrading and loss of income, there will be no further support. Lean is not cutting costs. It is removal of waste, which will lead to lower costs. There is a difference in practice. People also fear failure. One tenet of Lean is to expose problems. Many leaders believe they have failed if they cannot solve problems, or they do not wish to face reprimand, so they tend to hide problems. Instances abound of leaders who believe corrective action is to discipline the offender, rather than identify and eliminate the real cause. The medical and accounting professions have had numerous examples in
  2. 2. recent news. If an organization has no desire to understand the problem, attain the root cause and implement actual solutions (as opposed to “band-aids”), the implementation will fail. Executive Leadership Foremost, executive leadership must believe in the change. If that commitment, supported through actions, is not blatantly obvious to every employee, the implementation will suffer total failure. Note, not partial or temporary, but total failure. People are perceptive and traditional approaches have made employees savvy to flavor-of-the-month programs. Employees will see through false belief immediately. If belief is established, executives cannot be invisible. Every moment an executive is on the floor (whether production, sales, or other support services) brings credibility to the change. Conversely, every moment executives are not on the “Gemba” weakens the change. If an executive is not visible, the change is viewed as a “mandate from on high”. Executives must set aside time not only for a daily walk (Genchi Genbutsu), but also for unscheduled observation time through all departments. Too often, executives are tied to phone calls, electronic communications, report-outs, or meetings. The best leaders spend hours per day on the floor. This is truly the only way to see how a plant is performing. Executives who aren’t aware of activities even one level below them then don’t understand why the implementation is struggling. Yet, they often don’t take the time to discover the actions, choosing to depend on a report-out by those managers below them. Middle Management Like executives, middle management cannot contradict change. Yet, this happens constantly. Middle managers often excel at smoothing the water so the executives don’t see the wake. Many take pride in such activities. Many middle managers drive good potential leaders out of the company with their actions, but executives aren’t aware of the impacts until after those future leaders are lost. Middle managers have much to fear. They generally view the current status of the plant as their crowning achievement. To change their environment is to say their ideas were wrong. It is human nature to have difficulty believing one’s ideas aren’t correct. This is compounded at the middle management level as they have been promoted based on those exact ideas. Most middle managers have a Taylorist view of leadership, as that was the gold standard of leadership for fifty years. Change is very difficult for many of these people. Personal style Some people have excellent ideas, some have a wealth of knowledge, some are great starters, and others are great finishers. Very few people have all the skills to become brilliant leaders. Yet, many people do not function well in teams. How a person responds to stress is a great measurement of leadership, as is the ability to work within projects. Idea generators are often worth their weight in gold. Then the idea has problems and they become worth their weight in lead. Idea generation is necessary to implementation success, but complete idea incorporation is critical to success. Ideas that are implemented haphazardly or ineffectually will cause anxiety and drive people back to traditional approaches. Those who cannot delegate will struggle with Lean and can cause failure. This includes those who feel that operators cannot be trusted or given responsibility. They cannot share their knowledge. While these individuals may be good leaders, they will be stressed to such point that they break. Lean requires teamwork and sharing. Micro-management will hinder the implementation Many leaders are great out of the gate. However, their follow-through is lacking. These people start down the lean path, but ultimately they slide back into old habits. The established routine is easier to follow. To quote the line in a song, “once the new wears off and the old shines through…” Then there are great finishers. Every implementation needs finishers. Without them, the process can drag on for eons. However, if there is no one to start the process, a good closer is valueless. The baseball team with the best closer in the league won’t win many games if there isn’t a starting staff that can get to the later innings. Closers don’t get things moving. They keep things moving. One of the most difficult aspects of change is to simply take the first step.
  3. 3. With the varied management and personal styles, it is critical that team development is successful. As stated before, very few leaders have all the skills needed. If a well-rounded team structure is not established, the opportunity for implementation failure is greatly increased. The most difficult task is introspection. Leaders (both formal and informal) who cannot be open with themselves will not be open to others. The most difficult thought process is to ask, “What am I doing to create this failure?” Until each leader answers the question honestly and without fear or reservation, the opportunity for Lean implementation failure is greatly increased. Leave the ego at the door and determine what can yet be done to achieve implementation success. There is no magic pill for Lean initiatives. The Lean process requires time, commitment, and determination. Companies that cannot envision the long-term commitment to Lean, and only use the tools for short-term gain, will achieve some limited success. However, without the culture supporting those tools, the Lean initiative will fail, becoming the "flavor of the week" that everyone knew would not last. “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” ~ W. Edwards Deming Mike Thelen is Lean Facilitator at Aberdeen, SD based Hub City, Inc., a subsidiary of the Regal-Beloit Corporation, Beloit, WI. He has led Lean Initiatives in positions from Front-Line Supervisor to System Coordinator in various corporations since 2001. Mike can be reached at mike.thelen@regalbeloit.com.