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deming, improvement, leadership, lean, management, transformation

The Big Gains? Not Without Transformation

“In my experience, most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to proportions something like this:  94% belong to the system (the responsibility of management). . . No amount of care or skill in workmanship can overcome fundamental faults of the system.” W. Edwards Deming

Why have so few organizations been truly successful with lean?  The philosophy has been around in one form or another for many years and there is no shortage of books, papers, and seminars on the subject.  Even with well-publicized examples like Toyota, Southwest Airlines, and Herman Miller, the probability that a lean deployment will succeed today is fairly low.

A major factor contributing to the problem I have found is that people tend to underestimate the transformation required to succeed.  When one learns about lean, there is a tendency to believe that teaching people how to identify and eliminate waste is the key to success.  Although there is a fairly good chance that improvement will occur after investing in training and coaching, without transformation the organization will never get beyond the initial stages of lean and never realize the big gains that can be achieved through its adoption.  The pace of improvement will eventually slow, and the resulting frustration and natural pull back to traditional thinking will eventually lead to abandoning the effort.

Transformation in Thinking

There is a point in the process where a significant transformation in thinking is needed to move the organization to the next level and achieve the big gains. Whether occurring at a single point or several points over time, transformation in thinking occurs when leaders begin to realize that the organization’s problems are the result of barriers that only they can fix.  It is at this point when workers are no longer blamed for poor performance and the lack of improvement.

Improvement and the point of transformation

Improvement and the point of transformation

Although necessary for improvement, lower level kaizen activity can only take the organization’s performance so far, while addressing issues like poor hiring and promotion systems, an unclear or inconsistent purpose, a lack of learning, ineffective planning, and other barriers are the way to tap into the 94% of the improvement opportunities available to the organization.

What causes a leader to transform his or her thinking depends on experiences, perspectives, and outlook for the future – and it’s different for everybody.  The key to success is to keep working with people until they realize lean is a very different approach to business.  It requires a dedication to lifelong learning and change, and the understanding that the inertia associated with the traditional approach to business will cause a continual pull within the organization back to its old ways.

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About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “The Big Gains? Not Without Transformation

  1. Nice post Greg. You are right to say that leadership has to get behind it. David Kearns at Xerox introduced Learn, Use, Teach, Inspect (LUTI) to get TQM implemented at Xerox. Ken Lewis actually earned his green belt at Bank of America and required his team to do the same.

    These leaders understood what they were asking of the org and knew it was important to transform the company.

    Posted by Vele Galovski | December 9, 2012, 12:52 pm
  2. Interesting article. I LOVE the phrase; “…. transformation in thinking occurs when leaders begin to realize that the organization’s problems are the result of barriers that only they can fix. It is at this point when workers are no longer blamed for poor performance and the lack of improvement.”

    I know of an organization (leaders) where it pulled every tactic to blame its employees – the ones down in the trenches – for problems that their own policies created. The more things fell apart, the tighter the squeeze on the employees. The more employees pinpoint problems back to the the policy as the root cause, the more mysteriously terminations, the more churn, the more problems, well you get the picture.

    Posted by Helene | December 9, 2012, 9:52 pm
  3. Nice post. Much more detail and specifics on this subject in my #Rightshifting work and i.e. the Marshall Model. http://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/rightshifting/the-marshall-model/

    – Bob

    Posted by flowchainsensei | December 13, 2012, 8:42 am

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