Tag: respect for people

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?

 

“Respect For People” Shines Through In Sandy’s Aftermath

My friend Dave shared a wonderful video with me today that I felt really exemplified Toyota’s concept of “respect for metro logopeople”, especially in connection with doing something good for the community.  The video shows how employees of Toyota’s TSSC team went to work with Food Bank of New York and Metro World Child, creating an initiative called Meals per Hour.  Over an 8-week period, they applied several fundamental concepts of lean in order to get more food to more families faster.  They worked on identifying and eliminating waste, and creating continuous flow in both the packing and distribution processes.

What I loved most about this story was that there was no discussion of cost.  No questions about “what kind of return might I get on this investment of time” or “does this save us any money”.  All I heard was that they wanted to try to improve in order to make the job of the volunteers easier, to ensure more families were fed, and to improve the speed at which they provided service to the families.  In the end it states they were able to feed 400 additional families in half the time it used to take.

1 view 1 mealI checked on Toyota’s news release area and found that in addition to improving the process, for every view of the video on YouTube they would donate one meal to the families, up to 250,000.  The response was so high that they increased their donation limit an additional 1,000,000 meals – and it looks like as of today they have already surpassed the million views mark.

I noticed another video about Toyota and the TSSC (Toyota Production System Support Center) partnering with the Tree of Life Clinic in Tupelo MS to apply lean concepts to improve conditions for patients and volunteers.  tree of life clinicThe clinic provides free healthcare to those with no insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.  Top problems identified were long waits for patients and long workdays for the volunteers.  Patients might have arrived as early as 6:40 in the morning for a clinic that opens at 4:30 pm, to ensure they are seen that day.  And volunteers were staying as late as 10:00 at night in order to get as many patients through as possible and to complete all the paperwork.

By applying several tools and lean concepts such as 5S, process flow mapping, standard work, and eliminating waiting waste between doctor/patient interactions, they were able to improve in those top problem areas.  The results showed an average decrease of 24 minutes per patient, increasing the number of patients seen in a day from 80 to 90, while reducing the volunteer’s workday by around an hour each day.

Tree of Life results

On the Meals per Hour website, there are several more small videos and blog entries by authors brought in to document and add awareness to the issues and impacts on community members.  I only clicked on one entry so far where Vera Sweeney discusses what she took away from TPS principles – “Change your Thinking and Change Your Life”.  She relates a story about a Toyota employee attempting to improve a restaurant’s order accuracy and how she applied a TPS concept or two at home with her family to improve their morning routine.

I think all these stories illustrate and confirm how much waste exists out there in areas where lean thinking is not being applied yet.  There are a lot of gains to be made to improve the quality of life for people and communities – both the workers and the customers, no matter what the business or venue.  And when you consider how long it takes (in years and decades) to build capability in people to see and eliminate waste themselves on an everyday basis… isn’t it time we got started on that journey?

long journey