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deming, improvement, leadership, lean, management, transformation

Driving Learning & Improvement

“Experience by itself teaches nothing… Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.” – W. Edwards Deming

Is there a place for theory in everyday business?  It is not uncommon to hear complaints about people who are too theoretical and not practical enough to get things done.  For whatever reason, we have come to believe that “doing real work” is what matters and that theory has no place in real work.

Very few people would argue with the idea that learning is critical to the success of a business.  But what is not widely understood is that learning requires theory.  If there is no theory behind an action, there is nothing with which to compare results and drive improvement.  People will either keep doing the same thing or randomly change regardless of the type of results achieve.

The Learning Organization & Standardized Work

In organizations where learning is truly a competitive advantage, people understand that all actions are based on theories that require continual adjustment.  They realize that improvement results from a conscious connection between theory and practice, and that one without the other is meaningless.  They coach people to understand the connections and use even the smallest problems as impetuses to change.

Connecting action to theory is the basis of standardized work.  Inherent in standardized work is the theory is that performing work in the manner described will produce desirable results.  When a problem occurs in practice, the standard – or the theory – needs to be changed.

We’ve all dealt with people who continue to do something the same way even though it doesn’t seem to work.  One has to wonder whether this results from a lack of willingness to change or a lack of understanding of the theory behind actions.  This is much more understandable if the organization’s leaders don’t value theory.  And the situation won’t change until the leaders realize that, without consciously understanding the theory behind their actions, they will have little success in driving continual improvement across the organization.

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.


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