Sunday, February 10, 2013

You Can't do Lean without a Defiant Attitude

When does anyone find the time to get better? First, it's Monday morning, then the next thing you know it's the weekend. We need to run our business. We need to ship orders. We need to take care of our great, demanding customers. Everyone is crazy busy.

Are you running your business or is your business running you? I think we can all agree that none of us can afford NOT to make improvements. Or, you spend 90-95% of your time as a company doing non-value added work chock-full of the 8 wastes. And, as you grow sales, you end up hiring more people to help your people do their non-value added work that your customers won't pay for. Then, when sales plateau, you have no choice but to keep less money or you have to (gasp) lay people off.

What is the first thing needed to start the momentum toward a culture where EVERY person in the organization is thinking about improving their processes every day? I need a handful of people with a DEFIANT ATTITUDE. This is an affliction where you begin to look at your process as NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Complacency and mediocrity are the direct result of a lack of urgency. A defiant attitude is the seed that needs to be planted and nurtured by leadership to yield urgency. If your doctor tells you that you need to lose a few pounds, how defiant would you be compared to if he told you your LIFE depended on it?

Where does this defiant attitude come from? One of the best examples I had the pleasure of witnessing first hand 2 weeks ago is by Brian Mahoney, a young Chemical Engineer at Dymax Corporation (Torrington, CT). Two years ago, Brian was finishing up his degree at Northeastern University. Definitely one of the newer people at Dymax. Brian accepted leadership of an A3 team that included the Vice President of Global Operations, two highly respected, tenured, experienced Chemists, and another star engineer. Some might feel intimidated leading a team like this. And the business case for the A3, on a scale of 1-10, was a 15. His team needed to come to consensus on the current condition, determine root cause, agree to a target condition and an implementation plan within days. Thinking back to when I was starting my career (in the Stone Age), I'm not sure I would have found the stomach to say what he said. "We are not going anywhere until this process changes." I teared up. It was like poetry, or a great concerto or something. What added to the beauty of it was how the All-Pro team responded. Sleeves rolled up, thinking caps on. Improvements made. Hours and hours saved. Without Brian's defiant attitude, these kinds of results never happen. The process was the same for many years, and every once in a while, it would make Brian's life miserable.

As leaders, embrace those people. These people are the spark to light the flame. Trust that in 99% of the cases, the person who LIVES the process is the one best qualified to improve (or even fix) it.  That is the basic definition of respect for people!

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