Tag: Capability

Neil deGrasse Tyson Doesn’t Like The Idea Of Superheroes… And Neither Should Your Organization

The other day I listened to a great discussion on a podcast from The Forward, with host Lance Armstrong.  The guest was Neil deGrasse Tyson, popular astrophysicist, (6.74M Twitter followers for an astrophysicist? wow!) Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, and host of The Cosmos. (Lance refers to him as a “rock-star” astrophysicist)  Neil commented on a variety of topics, from cosmic perspective, to the future of NASA, to science in schools, to what drives innovation, to the influence of his parents, and on how there are a higher number of microbes in one linear centimeter of your colon than the number of total human beings ever born.

I found his take on these and other topics to be humorous, logical, warm and inviting, and grounded in a long-term vision vs. knee-jerk short term reactions.  Science in schools?  He didn’t want to prohibit a state like Texas from teaching creationism if they chose to do so, he just wanted to make sure that state’s choice didn’t automatically proliferate throughout the rest of the country without it being their choice as well, and to make those responsible aware of the potential long-term economic impact that choice may have.

One discussion caught my ear from a Lean standpoint.  At 40:00 in, Neil has been discussing his father and family upbringing, how his parents nurtured their children’s interests, and then Lance asks “was he your hero?”  Neil responds “I tried not to have heroes, because a hero – what is a hero… I like what Carl Sagan said about superheroes one day – he didn’t like the idea of superheroes, because they make the rest of us complacent – oh, there are problems in the world, the superhero will take care of it, i’ll sit back and watch that happen…. a superhero allows people to not have to take responsibility over their fate.

This next statement may be an over-generalization, but I’ve seen it discussed enough I feel it is broadly applicable:  Employees in larger organizations have historically been rewarded for being the superhero.  They come through in the clutch, they bring knowledge and experience no one else has, they get results.  Oh, we have a difficult quality problem?  Bring in the specialist.  She’ll help us solve it.  Oh, that machine isn’t working right?  Call in Jim, he’s the only one trained on how to get it back up and running, he’ll know what to do and help us save our production numbers this shift.  These organizational superheros get the praise and recognition, get the most high-exposure assignments, and tend to get the highest performance ratings and promotions.  So… what’s wrong with this model?  Why wouldn’t I want to assign the most important projects to the people that tend to get the best results?  Why wouldn’t I want to reward my high performers so they want to stick around my organization, continuing to drive great results?

There isn’t technically anything wrong with that concept.  Many organizations have done (and still do) just fine with that model.  Wrong isn’t the right word to use.  A more complete description would be that it is your current state, but that the organization could evolve to be more efficient overall, could realize a higher potential utilizing all of its resources to their maximum capabilities, and be built to deliver and sustain results over time.  In an organization where superheros can thrive, it is as Carl Sagan (possibly) said – the rest of us can become complacent.  We may see a problem, and just say oh, Robert will be able to solve that for us, let’s just wait until he has some time free up.  We wait.  And while we wait, the waste caused by that problem continues.  Perhaps it grows. Perhaps it festers.  The benefit you would gain from improving the problem has been delayed.  And perhaps specialists like Robert get tired of operating in a crisis or high-pressure mode all the time and leave for another company environment.  What do you do then?

What’s the alternative?  An organization where everyone solves problems.  A community of scientists, a community of problem solvers, an organization where everyone drives improvement, from the shop floor to the executive office.  Instead of waiting for Robert, anyone can take on the problem, or the team can work on it together. No need to call in a specialist – let’s improve the situation now.  What does it take to build this type of an organization?

  • Balancing rewards equally between building capability in team members and achieving results
  • Rewarding solving problems to root cause vs. quick temporary countermeasures that make you feel good in the short term
  • Setting the expectation that everyone will learn to solve problems – and following it up with leadership modeling those behaviors
  • Asking questions rather than providing solutions or instructions, which empowers the team to think rather than simply to execute

So Neil’s comment about superheroes should really ring true with those who are in the midst of lean transformation.  And by all accounts, Neil is a pretty smart guy.  It isn’t about creating Lean Superheroes.  It is about studying your current organizational superheroes – what skills and knowledge do they have that enables them to consistently deliver results?  What about those capabilities can we extract from them and move from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge that anyone can use?  How can I build those capabilities into the rest of the organization?  And most importantly, how can I enable my team to evolve into a community of scientists?  What obstacles are holding us back?

Take the time and reflect – do you have an organization that looks to its superheroes to solve problems?  If you do… is it possible this part of your culture is a reason your transformation is being held back?

 

The Neverending Story: Capability Building

I was sitting in a meeting and the leader decided to do a quick refresher for his team on quality tools.  Someone mentioned to me, “I guess this might be a little redundant for you.”  Have I heard the material before?  Sure, several times.  I’ve even taught it several times.  But I value going over the fundamentals time and time again, because every time I go through them there is always something new to take away due to new experiences, new applications, or new thinking learned in another area.

This particular time my mind honed in on the Fishbone examplefishbone diagram.  I reflected on my capability and decided I didn’t truly know the proper way to use and apply a fishbone diagram; I’d really only used it as a trigger when thinking about direct causes in problem solving.  And from all accounts, using it in the right way is a big help in determining cause.  So I made a note to myself to do some research and get better at it.

There are clearly many different paths to implement lean in a company.  It ranges from tlean six sigma levelshose that will have a very specific timeline, objectives, and return on investment they try to hit, to some (although few) that will just commit to the transformation and let it take them on a journey, having faith that this is the right thing to do and good things will come of it.  In either case, you typically need some form of a plan of how people will be taught the thinking and the tools so that they can begin to use them to improve.  Whether you have consultants come in and teach classes, send them to Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training, assign them books to read, or have everyone discuss what they read on lean blogs, there has to be some form of an actionable plan to move forward.

Many times that plan will involve “levels” of capability, fskydiverom novice to expert, green belts to black belts, bronze to platinum, student to sensei.  There are usually some criteria, classes, activities, or experiences you need to have to move from level to level.  Much like prerequisites in college curriculums.  Or, one analogy I always use is, “I want to teach you how to skydive before I push you out of the plane.  The outcome is usually better.”

I am in favor of having these types of capability plans.  I think setting expectations for progress is important.  I’m not always on board with setting expectations for specific results targets early on in the journey, other than seeing some level of improvement, either quantitative or qualitative.  The one caveat I have with this fairly standard approach is that some people will work hard to “check the box” on the list of requirements, and then proclaim, “I am now done with my lean training!”  The problem is when they ask, ok, what’s next?  Sometimes there is no next class to take, there is simply getting better and building on what you have learned.  One thing most companies do not outline is what life looks like after your initial training.  What does sustaining your capability look like?

I like to relate capability building to the game of Tetris.  When you first start the game, the pieces come down slowly.  You have time to analyze the best possible place for that piece, because you can see what piece is coming up next, and you have plenty of tetristime to twist it around.  Mistakes you make are easier to remedy.  Then you begin to realize that you get more points when you complete more lines at the same time.  So you begin building a structure that saves a space for that special piece that will allow you to eliminate 4 lines at once.

As you complete more and more lines, the game begins to speed up.  Pieces come down faster, and you have less time to rotate them and fit them perfectly.  However, since you learned the fundamentals at a slower speed, you are able to adapt to the new speed because you really don’t have any new concepts to learn about the game, you simply see the opportunities faster and move the pieces to the right places faster.

To finish connecting my analogy, I see building up the lines on the screen as reaching those initial capability targets your implementation program has set up.  You feel pretty good about putting the structure together.  Then, as those special straight 4-block pieces come along to blow away several lines, those are your “ah-ha moments” when you realize you only thought you knew what you were doing, or that you recognize you really weren’t solving to root cause at all, or when you say “oh that’s what they meant.”  And this process, much like the game of Tetris, simply continues – build up the structure, take it down with your ah-ha moments, and build again, even faster, on what you now call your ever-strengthening foundation.

As you progress and you reflect on your journey, you realize there was much you did not know at the outset.  There was much you did not know after 5 years.  And there is still much you do not know after 10 or more years.  But take solace in the fact that with every new experience you know more than you did the day before.