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Mark Graban

Mark Graban: hiring inexperienced employees for the Kaizen Promotion Office is a recipe for failure

By Mark Graban, - Last updated: Sunday, November 9, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The other posts answering this question have made me reflect a bit on a troubling trend in healthcare: hospitals far too often filling their KPOs (or process improvement departments) with very inexperienced employees. They are often inexperienced with or brand new to Lean and/or they are also new to healthcare.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is a recipe for failure. What NOT to do is to put your youngest, most inexperienced people into a KPO. I don’t see how a KPO member can effectively teach and mentor others if they have no experience with Lean or have not directly led hospital departments of any size.

At one hospital, the KPO leader complained that they had a very limited budget to use for hiring KPO team members. This led them to hire fresh college graduates or very junior hospital employees because that’s all they can afford. It’s easy to calculate the cost of hiring a more experienced person, but it’s more difficult to know the cost of bringing unqualified people into the KPO. No wonder some hospitals say “Lean doesn’t work,” giving up on their efforts (if you can call them “efforts”).

Yes, people can be developed, but the KPO role is critically important, as the other Lean Edgers have said. Do hospitals really need to develop people from scratch? It’s one thing to “build from within” at Toyota, but it’s different at a hospital that does not have the existing culture and engrained Lean behaviors of Toyota. Arguably, hospitals, with rare exceptions, don’t have the capability yet to develop Lean leaders from within, nor do they have the luxury of waiting for them to be developed.

I know many experienced Lean thinkers from industry who have tried to bring their knowledge and experience into healthcare. More often than not, the healthcare organizations hire somebody with healthcare experience and no significant Lean experience, instead. I’ve seen hospital KPO job postings that say “Lean experience preferred” or “Lean experience optional” and I roll my eyes. I’ve also had friends from industry turn down roles in healthcare because their skills are not valued as highly and they don’t want to take a 30% pay cut for the opportunity to work in healthcare.

Sometimes, the KPO leader has Lean experience, usually from another hospital or from an outside industry. If this is the case, the KPO leader might be able to coach and develop and young, but eager, KPO team members. Other times, however, the KPO leader has very little experience and little ability to coach, so the group flounders. The KPO then has no credibility with leaders in the organization to coach them, yet alone run basic Lean events or projects.

I was at another hospital recently where a recent Masters of Healthcare Administration graduate (with zero Lean experience) said he wanted to teach the Lean 101 class for the hospital. I nearly spit out my coffee. It’s sad that Lean is viewed as “easy” or trivial and that taking an online “Lean Sigma” class somehow qualifies you to teach others. The “blind leading the blind” is not an effective strategy.

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