How Can We Overcome Toxic Conformity at Work?

Why are many of our organizations almost allergenic in their responses to innovation? Why do we penalize those courageous individuals who challenge the status quo by swimming against the tide? What can we do at work to ensure that dissenting voices speak up and make us reflect on where we are going and what we are really trying to achieve? 

 I recently put these questions to Bill Templeman, author of the just-published book, Leadership Basics for Frontline Managers: Tips for Raising Your Level of Effectiveness and Communication. I wanted to know why this dynamic happens and what managers or anyone in a leadership position can do about it. Here is his complete response:  

All organizations with any sort of hierarchy are prone to believing in their visions and plans for the future; the stronger the culture, the greater the belief that “We are on the right path!” It is no secret that business plans become documents of faith, just like party platforms become documents of faith for politicians. The CEO of a major hi-tech firm recently said that he measured his executives’ teamwork skills by assessing their degree of commitment to the corporate business plan. But what if this plan is flawed? 

Admiral John Godfrey, the former Director of Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division, in analyzing "Operation Mincemeat," a highly successful World War II espionage operation, identified two major weaknesses of the Nazi’s command structure: "wishfulness" and "yesmanship."

Wishfulness is that tendency among individuals and organizations to believe information that supports their own view of reality while simultaneously to reject all contradictory information. Yesmanship is the tendency of those with less positional power to agree with those who have greater power, mainly out of fear. Yesmanship is an enabling behavior for wishfulness. 

What can we do to ensure that wishfulness and yesmanship do not distort our business planning and decision- making? How can we encourage people to speak their truth?

• Be the change you want to see in your people. If you want the truth, you must speak the truth and be the truth. 
• Encourage debate and dialogue. Welcome ideas that conflict with your own assumptions. 
• Hire people who are likely to disagree with you on business issues. 
• Instead of arguing with dissenters, ask for explanations of their thinking. 
• Treat everyone according to a set of worthwhile values.
• Build a culture of trust by demonstrating trust.
• Show your commitment by demonstrating everything you believe in through your own behavior.
• Cherish your dissenters and critiques. 

How far would Bill’s ideas go in your organization in terms of encouraging new thinking that goes against the current? Are there other ways you could discourage the toxicity of conformity at work?


Generating Sustainable Power: What Are the Considerations?

Joao Neiva de Figueiredo and Mauro F. GuillĂ©n recently edited and published a book titled Green Power: Perspectives on Sustainable Electricity Generation, which provides a systematic overview of the current state of green power and renewable electrical energy production in the world. 

During a recent conversation with Joao Neiva de Figueiredo, I asked: "What are the key considerations for adoption of sustainable power generation practices around the world?” 

Here is his very enlightening response: 

In analyzing different examples and situations of power generation around the world, it becomes apparent that some conditions favor sustainable energy practices: 

1. Consistency with a country’s or region’s geographic, climactic, anthropological, historic, and social characteristics. Understanding a country’s natural and cultural endowments is necessary for the development of a successful green energy set of policies. Electricity generation technologies must be consistent with a region’s environment. For example, the fact that important energy sources in Iceland are geothermal, in Canada and Brazil are hydro, and in Denmark are aeolic, indicate paths to success in each of those parts of the world. 

2. The need for a systemic approach when considering the mix of different potential generation technologies to be adopted. It is necessary to consider the interaction among the different components of the electricity system (generation, transmission, distribution) and of those with a country’s traditions to propose sustainable programs. For example, Germany capitalized on a strong bottom-up sentiment in favor of green energy (resulting from a cultural tradition of respecting nature) to implement successful policies. 

3. The advisability of incentive alignment not only among different stakeholders at each point in time, but over time. Because power generation projects need high levels of capital investment, take time to be developed and built, and have a very long useful life, consistency of policies over time is extremely important. Northern European countries have provided a positive example of this as energy policies benefited from continuity (albeit with slight adaptations) even as different political parties alternated in power. The counterexample is French Polynesia, where in the first decade of the millennium alternating political parties in power led to inconsistencies in energy policy. 

4. The desirability to continue research and implementation efforts to mitigate the negative effects of fossil fuel. Because some countries do not have natural endowments favoring the immediate adoption of green energy sources, there will be a transition period during which fossil fuels are a major component of energy generation. China’s efforts to improve “cleaner coal” generation technologies alongside the effort towards wind and solar generation are a case in point. 

5. The necessity for increased efficiency in energy consumption. It is encouraging that in recent decades some countries (albeit few) have been able to decouple their per capita GDP growth rate from their per capita energy consumption rate. The path towards a sustainable world is not limited to electricity generation: better use of energy generated is also a requirement. 

What do you think of Joao's explanations? How has green power production and dissemination in your part of the world affected your business? Has your organization established a "lean and green" initiative?


Why Don't All Manufacturing Companies Design Products that are Easy to Manufacture?

David M. Anderson recently published a book titled Design for Manufacturability: How to Use Concurrent Engineering to Rapidly Develop Low-Cost, High-Quality Products for Lean Production, and I just had to ask him a few questions, such as: Don’t all manufacturing companies design products for manufacturability? How could they not? Why will all manufacturing companies benefit from a book that shows them how to design products for manufacturability?

Here is David’s complete answer:

Engineering schools usually teach students to just design for function. This book completes that education by showing company engineers, and their managers, how to also design for low cost, design in high quality, enable Lean production with standardization, and design for fast ramps to stable production. 

Of all of these goals, cost is the most misunderstood to the point that counterproductive policies can actually raise total cost. For example, pressuring engineers to lower "cost" but primarily quantifying only parts’ cost will encourage them to specify cheap parts, which will raise quality cost even more. Another cost myth is that cost can be easily reduced after design, but the book shows that 80% of cost is determined by design and that trying to reduce cost later drains resources from new product development and introduces many new variables that will delay product development and raise many other costs. 

The book shows management how to structure new product development efforts so that design teams: (1) have enough multifunctional resources available early to work together in complete concurrent engineer teams and (2) have a higher proportion time up-front time to do a thorough design that avoids delays to fix things later and, paradoxically, gets products faster to paying customers. 

A key element of this thorough up-front work is to optimize product architecture and develop families of products so that Lean production factories can quickly and easily build many standard product variations (build-to-order) and specials (mass customization). 

How does your company determine product costs? What are your biggest barriers to fast product development?


Creating a Lean Product Portfolio

Chris Harris recently co-authored a book titled Capitalizing on Lean Production Systems to Win New Business: Creating a Lean and Profitable New Product Portfolio, which can help an organization take its current Lean knowledge and translate it into a step-by-step methodology to win and launch new business. I asked Chris: “Why is it necessary to plan for new products in the context of a Lean enterprise system?” Here’s his answer:

Production facilities that have had success implementing their Lean enterprise systems may have more to gain by utilizing their Lean thought process to quote and win new business; planning in a Lean context can take place before the new product ever hits the production floor. Common questions can now be answered in the context of a facilities’ current Lean enterprise system.

 For example, those in a Lean facility have likely gained an effective understanding of their machine capacity through the optimization of their equipment utilizing small batch production. They may have an efficiently run plan based upon the most efficient changeover sequence. If they do, when a new product comes about, they must investigate how that new product would fit into the sequence to effectively know how the new product will fit into their production system.

There are other issues to consider, such as:

• How will this new product flow through the current production system? A rough value stream map may help with this question.
• Where will the purchased parts be purchased, how much will they cost, and how much inventory is needed? The Plan For Every Part (PFEP) may help to determine location, cost, and delivery frequencies leading to an answer to this question.
• Will people need to be hired or will the current amount of labor be sufficient? Standardized work for the new product before it is ever produced may help with this question.
• How will the final assembly areas and work-in-process (WIP) areas receive their material for production and be scheduled for production in the current production system. Understanding the importance of a timed delivery route utilizing a tugger and how a new product fits into that route may help in answering this question.
• How will you ensure that the new product is launched successfully on time? Constructing a plan with a three-team approach to develop a new product acquisition and launch plan may help in this area.

These are certainly not all of the areas that must be considered when attempting to win new business, but they do offer some insight in to how a Lean enterprise system can systematically plan -- not only how to win new business, but how that new business will fit into their current system and be profitable! 

What do you think of Chris's ideas on creating a new product portfolio? How do you think an effectively running Lean system within an organization can help secure new business?


Chief Financial Officer (CFO) = Lean Architect

Nick Katko recently published a book titled The Lean CFO: Architect of the Lean Management System, and it fully explains why chief financial officers (CFOs) must rethink their traditional management accounting systems. During a recent conversation, I explicitly asked him: "What are the basic reasons why a CFO, who works for a company engaged in a Lean Initiative, must become a Lean CFO?" Here is his complete reply: 

Lean is a money-making business strategy. Companies that adopt a Lean business strategy are successful because they accomplish two tasks very effectively. First, they employ Lean practices everyday, everywhere, all the time. On a daily basis, the Lean company focuses on three tasks: delivering value to its customers, flowing all business processes, and relentlessly eliminating waste. Second, the leadership of the company clearly understands exactly how Lean makes money and communicates the link between Lean practices and more profits to every employee in the business. They understand the economics of Lean. 

The economics of Lean can be explained in basic terms of supply and demand. Let’s look at demand first. By focusing on creating and delivering customer value, the demand for your company’s products or services increase and you command better prices. Financially, this means the growth rate of your revenue should increase compared to your historical growth rate and should be better than industry averages. 

The supply side of the equation focuses on your supply of resources. Your supply of people, machines, and facilities are responsible for creating and delivering customer value. By focusing on creating flow and continuous improvement, the productivity of your resources will improve dramatically. Using Lean practices to create flow means that resources will maintain productivity levels regardless of short-term fluctuations in demand. Continuous improvement practices mean that the productivity of your resources will achieve consistent annual improvements in productivity of 10% to 20%. 

The financial impact of maintaining and improving your resources’ productivity is that the rate of increase in the cost of those resources (i.e. your operating expenses) will slow down and be less than the growth rate of your revenue. The difference in growth rates between revenue and costs means your company will make tons of money with lean. 

So where does the CFO fit into all of this? As CFO, you chart the financial strategy of your company. Whatever the business strategy, you need to project the financial impact of the proper execution of the strategy. You also have oversight of the management accounting system: the measures and methods that are used internally to measure how well a company is performing at any time. How you present the financial benefits of Lean and how you determine how to measure it will be the determining factor of whether a company adopts Lean as the business strategy or thinks of lean as “part” of a business strategy. 

As the Lean CFO, you need to understand the economics of lean so that you can align the financial strategy with how Lean makes a company money. You must make the necessary changes to financial measurement and reporting systems to measure the execution of the Lean business strategy. I believe this is the single most important factor that prevents companies from realizing the true financial potential of Lean. Your ability to translate the language of lean into the language of money will make it clear to everyone in your business why the proper implementation and daily execution of lean practices are necessary. 

As the CFO, you are the resident expert (and owner) of the measurements. It is very important for you to change the financial and operational measurement system so that the measures drive Lean behaviors. Traditional measures, of course, will drive traditional behaviors. That is what they are designed to do. But these traditional measures will obscure and undermine the vital changes required by the economics of Lean. 

If you change to a Lean business strategy, you cannot account, control, and measure it using the old methods. The most important contribution of the CFO is to lead these changes. To go Lean, you must understand how the principles of Lean create the economics of Lean. 

What do you think of Nick's perspective? How does your company measure its manufacturing practices? In your company, has the CFO directly supported or unknowingly hindered the the Lean initiative?


Creating an Organizational Culture Beyond Lean Sigma Tools

Robert Baird just published an interesting new book this month titled The Four Components of a Fast-Paced Organization: Going Beyond Lean Sigma Tools, and I had the opportunity to speak with him about some of the topics presented in the book. One of the questions I asked was: "How do you create a culture of continuous improvement beyond Lean Sigma tools?" Here is his complete response: 

If you look at the characteristics of a successful organization, you will find speed as one of them. Staying ahead and achieving business results at a pace faster than competitors is a distinct advantage. Within Lean, we have some focus on just-in-time, lead time, and on-time delivery, but what are we doing about it? Are organizations focused on improving their organizational speed? We found when there is a focus on speed then industry-leading improvements come with it and people are motivated to keep going, momentum is created, and all employees are engaged to execute the strategy. These are the outputs or effect on an organization when implementing all four of the components -- leadership and mentoring, process design and visual value streams, organization structure for sustainment, and fast knowledge sharing -- of a fast-paced organization. Implementing one, two, or three of the components will certainly achieve results but not the sustained world-class results we are looking for. 

We all want a culture of continuous improvement, learning, and customer orientation and this is what the four components were designed for. Following the implementation steps will inherently develop all of these organizational characteristics. It starts with the Leadership and Mentoring component. The Leaders must be on board first and then each of the other three components are to follow. The Leadership and Mentoring component provides the base which sustains the momentum and starts the culture. Leaders take responsibility for developing people who are trained, motivated, and supported to identify, solve and fix problems. Leaders must empower people to be capable of process ownership. Leaders must guide and support a production system of continuous flow and quality products and service. Finally, leaders must build a learning organization. They are responsible for operational excellence. 

What do you think of Robert's response? Do the leaders in your organization drive the culture? Are there both leaders and mentors in your company?


There are Problems and There are Paradoxes

Information is at our finger tips. We are able to communicate with anyone around the world instantaneously for free. We have specialists in every field who have spent years learning and mastering technical information. Yet on matters most critical for our success and areas where we know we must change (e.g.,the economy, healthcare, the environment), we often struggle to succeed. The same forces at play within society often exist in organizations, families, and even inside ourselves.

I asked Ralph Jacobson, author of the just published book, Getting Unstuck: Using Leadership Paradox to Execute with Confidence, to explain this widespread phenomenon and his understanding why this occurs and what can be done about it. Here is his complete response:

Problems have answers. Humans and organizations are often effective at solving them. But we face issues that are more complex. Many have no easy to implement solutions. They harder we try to fix some of these, the more futile it feels. In most organizations there are stories of, “We first had this same problem 15 years ago, nothing we have done has worked... guess this is just how it has to be.”

That’s an important clue that we are not dealing with a problem that can be solved. Instead, we have a paradox that has to be balanced. The last time most people encountered that word was in a college philosophy class. That’s unfortunate. The reality is that most of the issues that keep us up at night, keep companies from being successful, and societies from making progress is because they are better perceived and understood from the perspective of paradox. And, there are easy-to-use approaches and ways of seeing paradox that can reduce silos, create new pathways for success, help companies succeed, improve leadership, facilitate the implementation of change, and help people sleep better at night.

It is crucial to make the distinction between problems which can be solved and paradoxes that must be balanced. Once the effective solution has been applied to a problem, it ceases. But paradoxes must be balanced, they exist in perpetuity. Once we understand that paradoxes have two polarities that can be both right and wrong at the same time we have a new lens to view the issues that defied resolution. How do you find the critical paradoxes? Look for the tension -- "the heat." Look for issues that defy resolution. Look for things that have more than one good, usually opposing answer. Rather than running away from them or fix them, see them for what they are -- paradoxes.

What do you think of Ralph's ideas? What are some of the paradoxes that are important for your career and the success of your organization?


Global Cultures and Lean Initiatives

This past Spring, Jeffrey P. Wincel and Thomas J. Kull published a book titled People, Process, and Culture: Lean Manufacturing in the Real World. A purchaser and reader of the book, Scott E. from the University of Kentucky, had some questions. He asked: "People, Process, and Culture: Lean Manufacturing in the Real World shows there are many interesting effects that a country's culture has on Lean. This is shown by testing the influence of each cultural dimension. Aren't all these dimensions, however, happening at once? If so, how can a manager use the results specified in the book and take into account all dimensions at once?" I directed these questions directly to the authors, and here is their reply: 

Thanks Scott, this is very true. The multiple dimensions of national culture we examine are operating simultaneously. So they all could be impacting how effective Lean practices are, all at the same time. Our method of testing does account for this. That is, we allow all nine dimensions of national culture (as described in the GLOBE international study HERE) to simultaneously try to predict if Lean practices will be effective in a country. Researchers sometimes call this "competing for variance." Our results try to mimic what's happening in the real world; each of these influences exists, but which ones really stand out as impacting Lean practice effectiveness? We find four. We should note that there are many more aspects of national culture not included in our study, and we hope researchers will build on what we did to explore those. 

Now, what does this mean for managers? At the end of our book, we list the various regions of the world and how they "score" on the four dimensions of national culture that we found impactful. It's a nice table, and it summarizes potential benefits and detriments of having a specific cultural bias. For instance, Latin America scores high on a dimension called "uncertainty avoidance," which is a dimension that increases Lean effectiveness. For managers working in Latin America or working with suppliers in Latin America, they can use this knowledge. High uncertainty avoidance means there's likely a cultural bias for responding to out-of-control signals, valuing structure improvement, and being attracted to routines: each beneficial to making Lean work. We think managers can go to this table and ask themselves, "Are my people generally sensitive to uncertainty?" If yes, then maybe showing them how Lean helps this can bring more effort into making Lean work. 

Our book has many other tables that make this research easy-to-use. So I hope readers can enjoy it, learn from it, and best of all make use of it! Thanks for asking! 

What do you think of Jeffrey and Thomas’ response? As Lean initiatives expand across the globe, what effect do you think local cultures will have on the implementation of Lean methodologies?


The New Human Resources Model

Last week, I spent some time on the phone with Daniel Bloom discussing his latest book titled Achieving HR Excellence through Six Sigma,and I asked him this question: "In the book Achieving HR Excellence through Six Sigma, you talk about the need to create a new model for the HR function based on a proven business problem solving process. Why is the new model needed at this time?" Here is Daniel’s complete response: 

The Human Resource (HR) function of the 21st century is faced with a real dilemma. In most organizations, they function as the organizational firefighters. They constantly present the message that "here is what we do for the organization." The problem is that this approach does not support the HR function being part of the organizational decision process. They must learn the language of business. 

It is our message that this language of business is the TLS Continuum, which encompasses the principles behind Theory of Constraints (TOC), Lean, and Six Sigma. It is through the Continuum that HR can to migrate to a message of "here is what we deliver to the organization." They are more than just firefighters -- they are the key to strategic initiatives being created that propel the organization forward to a new level of overall alignment. We do this through a focus on the customer, the alignment of the total organization, and the enterprise embedded cultural change to one of constant quality improvement. 

To reach the point of HR excellence, it is critical that the organization implement the power of the problem-solving method by identifying the bottleneck that is slowing down the organization by utilizing TOC and then using the Lean toolbox to remove that single obstacle, which moves the organization along. The Six Sigma toolbox is used to establish the standard of work that dictates what steps are needed going forward to complete the process and create safeguards to ensure that the process we have created is creditable, verifiable, and repeatable. 

In one example from our two-day seminar, one group discovered that in the course of hiring a new person for their team, the job description and requisition are reviewed and approved three times by the same person. While this process had existed for many years, no one recognized that this process obstacle was hindering the talent-management function. While it is important to get the document approved, it is also important that the process runs efficiently. The duplication of process steps is not a sign of efficiency. 

What do you think of Dan's statements? Do any readers strive to achieve HR excellence by risking more than others think safe to change the corporate culture?


Toyota Takes Lean to the Bank... the Food Bank

I just read this great article by Mona El-Naggar in The New York Times yesterday. Many large corporations donate money to important charities, such as food banks, all around the world, but Toyota donated something to the Food Bank for New York City that might prove more valuable than a cash outlay -- expertise on how to reduce money-draining waste and improve inefficient processes.

Look at the statistics reported in the article:
  • At a soup kitchen in Harlem, Toyota’s engineers cut down the wait time for dinner to 18 minutes from as long as 90. 
  • At a food pantry on Staten Island, they reduced the time people spent filling their bags to 6 minutes from 11. 
  • And at a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where volunteers were packing boxes of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a dose of kaizen cut the time it took to pack one box to 11 seconds from 3 minutes. 
There have been many books published on the adoption of Lean tools and techniques to the service industry, but this article presents direct and measurable benefits by the immediate application of  tools such as kaizen.

Here's a link to some photographs that illustrate the improvements accomplished.

Please share your thoughts on this article. Many readers of this blog have directed or participated in the application of Lean concepts to service industries -- Do you think the Food Bank for New York City could become a benchmark for other nonprofit anti-hunger organizations?