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Karen Martin

Karen Martin: Start the conversation

By Karen Martin, - Last updated: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The Lean Edge: How do you make time for improvements?

As CEO of my company I have a grasp of lean and have experienced it in my career, but now that I’m CEO, I find it difficult to ask my people to make time for improvement work. They’re already completely busy doing their regular work. Moreover, this company is in the outdoor sports industry, and many people join these companies because they want time to climb, backpack, canoe, etc., and I’m reluctant to ask them to work more hours and sacrifice time for these activities. Any advice?”

When clients say they have no time for improvement (which most do), it’s an invitation for a conversation.

The conversation typically includes a discussion around the hard facts there are only 24 hours in a day and that working ON the business is the only way to excellence and that has to be as high a priority as working IN the business. I share with them that, if they work hard at making improvement, they’ll eventually be able to work ON the business as they’re working IN the business so it won’t require a separate commitment.

BUT…in the beginning, the problems are typically too large and too cross-functional to efficiently and successfully resolve with short 15 minute windows. Improvement of complex, cross-functional processes that have never been put through their paces and well defined takes dedicated time.

The next thing I ask my clients to consider is what happens when someone goes on vacation, is selected for a jury, or is down with the flu for three days. They don’t close their doors and tell customers to go away.
They somehow get by with fewer people. So pulling someone off their regular job for 3 days is no different that the vacation/jury/flu scenario. And the long-term impact of those three days is enormous.

In the end – it’s a matter of priorities. As Deming said (I’m paraphrasing), funny how we don’t have time to make improvements, but we have plenty of time to perform work inefficiently and keep resolving the same problems over and over. Ultimately, I believe it’s a matter of choice, will, and belief in a better tomorrow.

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