Let’s compare two organisations (or departments within):
In one (let’s call it Cheese – I like cheese…it matures into a lovely outcome):
The senior manager is curious as to how to get the best out of the system, for the good of the customer. She has understood that, to achieve excellent results, the organisation must continually work on the causes of those results.
She questions her own learning’s to date, always looking to expand her knowledge and amend her ‘worldview’, seeks counsel from others* and (once suitably skilled) actively coaches the people that work within the system. She has the humility to realise that her role is to lead, not to know the answer.
* such counsel comes from meeting the process rather than a reliance on the senior management team.
This mentality has become the way that all her managers now think and operate and, because of this, they have removed all ‘management instruments’ that get in the way of collaborative system-wide thinking.
They don’t believe that the ‘answers’ are out there, to be found and copied from other organisations or consultancies selling the ‘current best practise’.
- they identify measures that demonstrate the system’s capability at delivering value to their customers (making these transparent to all) and they monitor these measures over time to understand variation and any progress.
- they constantly work to understand their current condition, set themselves challenges (target conditions) that, when achieved, would be good for their customers and then move towards these goals through experimentation and learning.
They accept that their path will be unclear…but they are clear on what they want to move towards, why and how they are truly doing.
And, because of the above:
- everyone is engaged in a collaborative effort towards a clear purpose (for the customer);
- there is transparency for all within the system;
- there is mutual trust and respect across the system; and as result
- there is a high degree of commitment and engagement….dare I say ‘a thriving culture’ in which people want to come to work
BUT: it’s not perfect, it’s often rather messy…but learning is like that.
In the other (Chalk – crumbly, disintegrates…not enjoyable to consume!)
The senior manager has come across some improvement methodologies and guru books and has issued a directive that these will be implemented across the organisation.
A corporate team is set up to drive each implementation. Energy is spent developing and deploying presentations, training, tools, templates and methods of working. There is an implementation plan with activities, milestones and metrics. Benefits are to be ‘realised’.
Tweaks are made to incorporate the programme into the existing management instruments: objectives, performance appraisals, rewards, awards.
‘Operations’ (the various teams within) are then expected to enthusiastically embrace and absorb the ‘shiny new thing’ (along with the other ones that are regularly handed down from the brains above) whilst continuing to deliver against silo’d targets.
The corporate team responsible for the initiative ‘lives and breathes it’ as if its implementation is the most important thing…no surprise since their rewards are based on this.
A regular reporting mechanism is put in place to demonstrate adoption. Operations do what they can to categorise their actions as ‘evidence’ of their successful compliance, thereby pleasing those above and ‘proving that it was a good idea’.
So what’s the point?
- It’s not about ‘implementing’ a methodology (or two), it’s about a complete change in thinking;
- It about changing your management system rather than manipulating it;
- You can’t separate Operations from those responsible for actually managing the improvement of the system. (You have to be very careful about setting up a separate corporate team i.e. why you are doing this and how this will actually be of value!);
- You don’t start with an answer, you don’t ‘implement’, you never complete…it is a never ending journey with a clear purpose and an open mind.
- If senior management don’t truly get this, then there’s work to do – they need to understand their system for what it really is.
If you want to understand the above at a deeper level, I would recommend reading (in increasing order of length and therefore time commitment):
- the essay ‘Modern Management vs. Lean Management’ by Jim Womack in his book Gemba Walks;
- the prologue to John Seddon’s book called ‘Freedom from Command and Control’;
- the book called ‘Turn your ship around’ by David Marquet