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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How to Teach Lean Thinking and Acting

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, October 11, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question: I’m being told to delegate more lean issues to my line managers, but many of them do not rise to the challenge, resist or ignore the improvement work we’re trying to do. What would be the lean way of dealing with this?

I agree completely that just delegating will not change anything. Human perception, which determines behavior, relies heavily on past experience. Perception is changed through new experiences.

In that last sentence lies the opportunity for change, and an answer to your question about how to get your line managers to rise to the challenge of continuous improvement.

Skills and mindset can be changed when we deliberately practice a different way. Managers can learn to see and do things differently if they practice a new behavior. Not by delegating.

Here are three key ingredients for learning to see and do things differently:

(1) Deliberate Practice

Imagine you would like to teach a team of athletes some new skills and have them do well in competition. You would not expect that simply explaining (or delegating) a different way of playing will be sufficient for altering their behavior. If you want to change behavior, you have to change mindset.

How do you do that? Two main things make it happen:

It’s no different than learning new skills in sports, music, medicine, language, and so on. It takes physical, bodily repetition of a new pattern of acting, combined with a desire to do it, to change mindset and, in turn, behavior.

(2) Coaching

Coaching is important because without it learners will not practice the new pattern correctly and not develop new habits, because they will naturally use their existing neural paths.

In his post here, Art Smalley suggests coaching people one-on-one. I think that’s right. We tried coaching groups of learners but each person has unique needs.

One of the coach’s tasks is to determine whether or not the learner is practicing the desired kata — i.e., pattern of thinking and acting — and to introduce corrections when necessary. A Toyota coach does this by giving the learner a challenge, observing the learner in action & asking questions in order to compare it to the intended pattern, and making corrections.

(3) Specify What to Practice (Method)

The kata (pattern or routine) to be practiced needs to be specified and the coach needs to have experience with that kata. It’s not enough to just have a list of lean practices, attributes or principles. If you don’t specify the actual pattern of thinking and acting that you want, then you can’t coach. That would be like a baseball coach simply saying, “Throw it over the plate.”

The baseball coach needs to know how to throw like that, observe the learner to compare the actual pattern with the desired pattern and help the learner practice the desired pattern until it becomes second nature, i.e., forms new neural pathways.

An Excellent Tactic for Teaching/Learning New Skills = Coaching Cycles

Here’s a lean training approach that’s working for us. It’s based on the idea that to develop new habits and maintain them it is better to practice for a short time every day, than in long sessions infrequently. It’s called “Coaching Cycles” and you’ll find concise how-to details at the following link:

And here are some additional resources for this kind of lean practice:

Last but not least… every good wish to you and your managers for your lean practice!

Mike


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