After yesterday diatribe on the people side of improvement, it occurred to me this morning that when doing Lean management, what we work with are mainly processes, not people; at least not directly.
“Hard on problems, soft on people” is indeed an often cited quote in Lean culture.
Lean is based on a coaching culture where the coaches are the managers (“teach, don’t tell” is another Lean quote). Yet, you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to (whatever his/her [good or bad] reason).
So, the process is used as a pretext for that coaching. In an organization that needs to make benefits, improving efficiency is something well understood from employees. Yet, it’s hard (if not impossible) to come toward people and tell them how they should work better, because:
- it’s disrespectful (and Lean is based on Respect for People!)
- it’s presumptuous unless you did their job before and preferably not long time ago
- and even if not long ago, you’d be served a well-merited “why didn’t you do it yourself when on the job”?
- you don’t have requisite variety, meaning a manager can’t know the details of how to do each and every job he’s supposed to manage
- and finally, it goes against what Lean management teaches us: having employees learn. If you tell, they don’t learn. Period.
So, even if you know how to do it better, you shouldn’t say it. And so you focus on the processes instead. Because by improving processes, you squeeze problems out of them, which means food for thought for your employees, which they will solve because it’s their job (not yours as a manager!), which will improve further the process and make it all the more sensitive to more subtle problems.
So is the virtuous circle of Lean.
(The vicious circle of traditional management is all too common: no problem solving, thus more problems, more firefighting, less time to solve anything, and more problems, leading to people leaving the company, new hires, less experience of the current situation and so further less problem solving). I wrote about it here: Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement).
How often do you focus on the processes instead of only the results of them?