One of the issues that can arise during a lean transformation is figuring out how to deal with the corporate heroes that exist in virtually every organization. These are the “go to guys” whenever a major problem arises. They are generally hard workers, know their processes well, and measure their worth by the number of highly visible problems they are involved in solving.
This can become a significant issue because a lean thinking organization values those who prevent problems and work well in teams more than those who wait until problems occur and swoop in to save the day. The behavior often exhibited by the heroes is the opposite of what you are trying to establish in the transformation.
On the positive side, heroes tend to be hard working, smart, and highly experienced in the company’s operation – all things that are valuable to the organization’s success. On the negative side, however, these people often have a hand in creating problems, or at least have the ability to address problems before they become critical or high profile issues. They also tend to keep important process information close to the vest because they view it as a key to their success.
The Difficulty in Changing Hero Behavior
One of the biggest issues in dealing with the heroes is that, for years we have rewarded them for the behavior they exhibit. Heroes tend to like a lot of attention and publicly delivered compliments for their actions. As the organization becomes more lean-focused, though, it becomes clearer to people that addressing problems means understanding and addressing root causes so we can reduce the likelihood that they will occur in the future. We cannot tolerate people who have the ability to prevent problems but wait until they occur before taking action.
Getting heroes to understand the consequences of their behavior will require a lot of coaching and one-on-one discussions to help them realize that they may have been rewarded and promoted in the past for the wrong reasons. And although changing behavior is a difficult and often futile undertaking, it is the responsibility of the leader to make the effort because the problem we are addressing is most likely one we created.
In many instances, it is critical to get the hero involved in the development of standard work because they understand their processes so well. We must attempt to document and make available to everyone information that they have most likely held close in the past. This is a process that will have to be tested and retested in order to assure that all necessary information has been extracted from the person and effectively documented.
Step 1: Recognize the Problem
Addressing the problem of hero worship will not be easy. Correcting behaviors first requires admitting that heroes are, in fact, a problem. Chances are, you and others have come to rely on these people when high impact problems occurred. Recognizing that is is a crutch for ineffective processes, however, will help you see the situation more clearly.
Expect a lot of complaining, pushback, and even attrition as you embark on the process of bringing heroes back down to earth. Like any change process, though, succeeding will require clarity in the vision and consistency in the message.