Leaders and decisions – Two stories

The proposal for the new initiative had been developed by a sub-set within Marketing. Marketing barely spoke to those expected to carry out the plan, but saw it as a great opportunity. Operations gave it a cautious approval, suggesting a few tweaks but not really feeling involved. The decision was discussed by the CEO’s group in several meetings in the CEO’s office where Marketing presented the proposal in confidence. Other directors felt some unease but were convinced by Marketing that it would represent a breakthrough. In any case a lot of work had gone into the proposal and this would be wasted if it failed to go ahead. There would be loss of face. No alternatives were considered and the senior group did not discuss the proposal with the participants. Marketing convinced the CEO that timing was now vital. The proposal went ahead.

Disaster! The story of course is the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. The CEO was Kennedy. Marketing was the CIA. The participants were the Cuban exiles. Operations was the US Department of Defense. The proposers blamed the others. It is a story of ‘groupthink’, but also arrogance. No gemba. No lean.

But Kennedy learned from this. He took personal responsibility for the debacle, and discussed widely on a better decision process. The better process involved generating several alternatives, getting each alternative to be presented by those proposing another alternative, fostering candid dialogue and listening, using scenarios to test the alternatives, holding the decision meetings away from the White House (preferably in a ‘war room’ with information on display), and much wider consultation at both formulation and execution stages. The effectiveness of the new process was soon demonstrated by the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Humility. Systems thinking. Gemba. Success. Lean.

Is this a story that is repeated in lean implementations (maybe not Marketing, but Accounting, R&D, Manufacturing, or even the lean guys themselves)?

Another story. In 1984 The Economist magazine carried out a 10 year forecasting exercise, amongst four groups of four people each: finance ministers, company chairmen, Oxford economics students, and dustmen. Each group prepared a 10 year, sealed-envelope forecast of factors such as inflation, growth, exchange rates, and so forth. In 1994 the envelopes were opened. You can guess the rest! The point of the story is not that dustmen make the best forecasters. In fact all four groups made very poor forecasts. I think the lessons are of arrogance and humility, of the need for flexibility, and of reflection and learning.

Of course, there is always a reason: mistakes were made, but not by me!

To these let us add the four TWI foundations for good job relations: let each worker know how he or she is doing; give credit where due (and soon); tell people in advance about changes that will affect them (tell them why if possible); and make best use of each person’s ability. Simple? Yes. But done?


On people and lean

The theme of the last issue was people. Gwendolyn Galsworth wrote on the links between visuality, empowerment and improvement. Andy Brophy’s article was essentially about avoiding the ‘eighth waste’ of not using the ideas of everyone; Howletts’s wide-ranging article included the essential attributes of leader standard work; Zunic spoke about the impact of 5S on daily work; Axler and Evans showed the advantage of an end-to-end view on a patient’s journey to recovery; and Wendy Wilson’s article proposed ‘right to left’ thinking – starting with the customer.

First there is the reflection that all related to TWI’s ‘Three Legged Stool’ (job instruction – including standards, job methods – improvement, and job relations) but came from different starting points. Of these, job relations includes the oh-so-obvious but often forgotten ‘get the facts – be sure you have the whole story’, ‘make best use of each person’s ability’, and ‘people must be treated as individuals’. Timeless, but ignored every day.

Second, I have sometimes used the view that lean is about needs (of customers, clients), speeds (reduction in lead time by the reduction and interaction of muda, muri, mura), deeds (through leadership, kaizen, and innovation), and seeds (building tomorrow’s workforce through questioning, coaching, mentoring). Of these four, two were particularly relevant in the last issue: deeds and seeds.

The last two both involve ‘respect’. But what does ‘respect’ mean? Coming out of the articles, I think, it means:

  • Allowing time. You cannot expect improvement if no time is allowed (see Brophy’s piece).
  • Listening. Not fake listening where things have already been decided. Listen to customers and workers (see pieces from Brophy, Howlett, Axler and Evans).
  • Visualisation. Showing progress. Surfacing issues. Genuine participation (see articles from Galsworth, Howlett, Zunic and Axler and Evans).
  • Attitude. Belief that ‘we can do it’ – the TWI slogan (refer to pieces from Brophy and Wilson).
  • We not I (like all articles pointed out).
  • Developing others. The mentee comes first.
  • ‘Drive out fear’. This famous Deming statement probably requires all of the above.

Finally, the words of Lau Tsu: ‘When the best leaders work is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves”.’