Friday, March 30, 2012

How to Create a Culture Where Problems are Good

It is nice to see managers "managing by walking around".  Asking how things are going. "How bout them Mets?" Have you ever seen a culture where there is only one answer to the question, "how is it going?". And that answer is GREAT!!!  I often think about "The Emperor’s New Clothes" which was first published in 1837. Because he was emperor, he could walk around naked, and all of his subjects (employees) should tell him how great he looks in his new suit. (The emperor was told that anyone who didn't see the "non-suit" was "helplessly stupid" so even the king himself convinced himself he saw a  suit).

The people doing the work know you are naked. They've shared that fact with their co-workers and families, and in many cases how to fix the situation. So how come they can't share this with their emperor?  They don't trust him:

1. Fear- People think if they bring up "negative things" they will get blamed and fired.
2. Not Listening- They already told you and you didn't do anything. Have you ever heard co-workers saying, "I tried to tell THEM that 3 years ago and THEY didn't listen."  
3. People do not want to appear inept or stupid, so they adopt the "I just work here mentality."

This is all symptomatic of an US vs. THEM culture.  Once you make a REAL effort to get people together on a regular basis (P2 = Develop your People and Partners) people start to talk openly about problems. It is important that all emperors attend these regular get togethers. 

The old suggestion box with a lock and key doesn't work.  In addition to on time delivery, customer complaints, defects, rework, etc., the best way to make PROBLEMS visible and the root of your organizational learning is by developing your people and partners!  Make it a point to get groups together to talk about problems often and regularly. Toyota uses the number of employee suggestions to measure MORALE. 

So, do "your people" tell you you're naked?


  1. Thank you so much for reading it!!! Bill G

  2. Yes, employees and managers working together to solve problems is a key to being a learning organization. Also important is being selective about which problems get resourced. One method that I have seen work well is the use of triggers. A trigger might be ‘X hours’ of unplanned down time or a safety incident/quality excursion of a certain magnitude. When a trigger is hit, problem solving (and learning together) begins.