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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Learning to Lead a Lean Transformation

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Friday, January 15, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  How do you help people see the depth of personal commitment it takes to lead a lean transformation?

Thank you Peter Senge for your question. Generally speaking I currently coach leaders in practicing through three increasing levels of capability, in a behavior pattern I call the improvement kata.  The levels are awareness, able to do it, and able to coach it.  For some details on how, please see pages 243-6 in the book Toyota Kata (foreword by Tom Johnson, by the way!).

–> Comment 1:

“Discover,” is the right word I think.  People can’t learn how to lead such change from books, classroom training, etc.  They need to experience it for themselves, which means practicing.  Brain research backs this up.  We naturally prefer and reflexively use already-existing, worn-in neural circuits.  So, as my colleague Prof. Gerald Hüther says, “It requires new experiences to change our mind.”

–> Comment 2:

As in sports, the practicing should be done under the observation of an experienced coach.  It is not possible to assess one’s own actions and see what skills you need to work on, because we tend not to perceive our own mental habits.  We do not see what we do not know.

Another thing a coach does is awaken a person’s curiosity by escorting them into the learning zone.

–> Comment 3:

This is a new one:  The desired behavior pattern should be specified.  Why?

a) We can only consciously practice something new if we know what it is.  Simply applying incentives and giving self-directed freedom will not change people’s mindset and behavior, because their current habits of thinking will automatically continue to predominate.

b) Only if the desired pattern is specified can a coach discern where the trainee has differences and what s/he needs to work on.  As Gregory Bateson wrote, “Perception operates only upon difference.”

–> Comment 4:

So far we have been practicing a lot of the wrong routines in our pursuit of lean because we misunderstood what Toyota is doing.

We confused the content of what we saw Toyota working on in factories — minimizing waste/maximizing productivity — with the admittedly less visible means Toyota uses to manage its organization and pursue objectives.  We even called it “Lean,” which suggests always minimizing/maximizing.  That easily fits into existing thinking in business, and suggests to leaders that not much change is actually needed.

Toyota’s approach, or lean, as I see it now is more of a nature- or evolution-resembling way of working toward any objective or challenging target condition.  It’s about solving problems and adapting as you strive to move from where you are, to where you want to be next.  That can involve minimizing, or, for a sustainability objective, optimizing.

Mike

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