Someone recently pointed out to me that I write passionately about leadership and human behavior, but that I don’t write too much on Operational Excellence, per se. Fair enough. I don’t. I guess I mostly believe that the techniques and tools for operational excellence aren’t all that hard to grasp. I do believe that the “connective tissue” in an operational excellence system – the relationships both tacit and explicit – are tough to grasp because it is practice, and only practice, that illuminates some of the more elusive and counterintuitive associations.
An example of the counterintuitive: every problem gets problem-solving. Sounds simple, right? This is a clarion call and rallying point for an organization embarking on their journey to world class performance through continuous improvement. On the surface it makes sense – if we want to improve, we need to solve our problems, so…every problem gets problem-solving.
The tricky part is that you are deploying this sentiment across an enterprise of many people, many teams, and – most of all – many team leaders, team leaders who have to learn by practicing.
When an idea gets spread around, it lands firmly in the minds of your people. They think about it and based on what they think about it, they act (after they run it through their filter of personal values). Just this morning, I was coaching a team of internal continuous improvement coaches. One of their questions was about whether a problem needed problem-solving or whether a good idea (allegedly a countermeasure to a problem’s root cause) could be done quickly instead of problem-solving.
Every problem gets problem-solving.
What was the coach thinking? The coach, reflecting the “old way” of thinking and the pressures the coach faces from many team leaders, was thinking that every problem gets problem-solving was way too time consuming. It was, as some of my friends in change management like to say, a “heavy lift.” Learning to solve problems was less important than…what?
This example is one of many that we could put into the category of “connective tissue.” So, what’s the point?
Every place these connective issues emerge, one and only one, thing is required to keep the “ball moving forward”: leadership.
Leaders – natural or positional, hopefully both – have the ability to shape and re-shape a team’s mindset. The trick – more counter-intuition and nuance – is doing that one person at a time.
If a leader’s job is to continually ask, “How can I help you succeed…”, they must be skilled in getting to the “secret” question: what / how are you thinking about this…
I will continue to write about leadership for this reason: starting, pursuing, maintaining, and evolving an operational excellence system requires leadership. Leadership, friends, is the steeper hill to climb.