Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Secret of the Honey Badger

Today I need to come clean. So many people have asked me what the heck that animal is on my logo. I figured it would be a good time to share my warped thinking. Some have said skunk, others weasel, yet others badger. Truth is the mascot for my consulting business is the one and only, cuddly honey badger.

I was first introduced to this unusual creature in December of 2011, a few weeks before I went solo. My nephews and my kids showed me an R-rated video that had gone viral on YouTube, which shows the exploits of this bugger. He gets bit by a cobra, decides to take a nap, wakes up, and devours the cobra. He digs through rock with his bare claws etc.. Like everyone else, I laughed at the video. Then it got me thinking about my "journey" as lean champion, and I realized that it takes quite a bit of honey badger to be good at change management. Here are the top five reasons I think Mellivora capensis should be the National Animal for Lean Nation.

1. Honey badgers are intelligent animals and are one of a few species known to be capable of using tools. In a 1997 documentary series, a honey badger in India was filmed making use of a tool; the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a bird stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave. Lean champions are no different.  We need to be experts at using and teaching the use of tools like SMED, value stream mapping, 5S, etc. Like the HB, we don't use tools for the sake of using them, but to see the 8 wastes or proceed toward flow.
2. The HB is extremely resilient. Just ask the cobra. There are a million reasons not to keep going as a lean journey starts. There are definitely days when you feel like you can eat the cobra. Other days you might want to go find some anti-venom and go home. Before we really got traction in my company, I had entire departments holding voodoo dolls of Bill Greider. Change management is difficult when it is done right. It's easy to bully people into changing their thinking, much harder to convince them that it will make their job, and in some cases, their lives better. I tell my customers that to do it right, you are the tortoise, and not the hare, and be happy with whatever progress you make each day no matter how small. Don't get discouraged! Be resilient like the honey badger!
3. The HB is an incredibly good digger. He can dig a place to live in hard ground in minutes, because of his exceptionally long front claws. Just like a good lean champion. We don't teach people to solve their problems using guesses or hearsay. We go to the gemba (where the work is being performed) and see things how they actually are. This is, of course, part of "respect for people". We dig at processes, not people, because the right process will produce the right result. The single biggest triumph is when we convince people that no one needs to defend a process that gives bad results! We'll dig to root cause and fix it.
4.There are coffee mugs, tee shirts, hats, etc. that say "Honey Badger Don't Care". I would rather think that the HB has learned how to take ownership in his own processes, and consequently it seems like he is laissez faire. He is respectful in that he doesn't try to impose his will on the other animal's processes. He strives to be the best honey badger he can be. I've learned that it is much easier to help and teach people when you are the most positive person you can be.
5. One of the most fascinating of the HB traits is how thick skinned they are. Literally. The skin is about 1/4" thick. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin. In combat, the HB can wear out much larger animals in physical confrontations, simply by rolling around rapidly inside of their own loose skin. Lions, water buffalo, or dogs are no match for this little guy. As I mentioned above, this trait also makes the HB resilient. Your lean journey is a long, slow march. Getting better in small increments every day. From experience, I ask that you develop a thick skin. Many times, during our journey, I thought it might be easier to just stop. There are easier business strategies, but few are as fulfilling.

So there you have it. No more questions about why I picked a skunk as my mascot!