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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: The challenge is to change our thinking and we have learned that this is done by changing behavior

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, April 13, 2015 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

As Jim Huntzinger notes the question is really about behavior change, which is related to a change in our thinking. There was a reason Womack and Jones called their book Lean Thinking. Lean thinking is a broad concept. It starts with a long-term perspective. Lean leaders believe in their bones that the pathway to building an excellent organization is rooted in developing people. What people have the unique capacity to do is think creatively about how to change the organization to pursue a vision of excellent customer service. The elements of pursuing excellence include having a clear vision of how the organization will differentiate itself from competitors to surprise and delight customers, which is updated periodically, and then engaging the organization to systematically improve toward that vision. Lean leaders recognize that you cannot make the jump to a new operating model in one gigantic leap, but need to take small steps. We can then learn from each step to inform our next step. The learning needs to be broadly distributed so that local leaders (group leaders, team leaders) make a habit of improvement following the method of PDCA to continuously learn.

Traditional management behaviors act against almost everything I just described. Visions are short-term and often do not go beyond making money and fighting the fires of the day. Management delegates improvement to make more money to specialists inside and outside the organization. Management lacks the capacity of systematic improvement, and therefore cannot recognize it, let alone teach it to others. The culture becomes one of getting by in the short-term.

The big challenge is to change this thinking and we have learned that changing thinking is best done by changing behavior. In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg makes a compelling case that to change thinking we need to form new habits which come from a simple process of cue, practice the new behavior, and reward. Toyota Kata is fundamentally a way to change habits that include all these elements. The focus is on building a habit of leading improvement and then coaching improvement. It requires daily practice, a trigger such as a standard time for learning sessions, clear and measurable targets for improvement, and rewards that include the satisfaction of learning and seeing you are making a positive difference. I believe that daily practice with a coach is the only pathway to making the behaviors associated with lean a habit. It must penetrate the very top of the organization who become real leaders of transformation by coaching others. Whether you follow Toyota kata or another approach with these same elements, I believe this is the only chance of success.

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