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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Performance Organizations

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

This month’s questions asks why is there such a resistance to creating learning organizations and why are leaders letting the future deteriorate without doing anything about it. I am not sure that I can answer the question with any relevant facts to be honest. In order to answer this question properly I think the proper thing to do in TPS spirit is to “get the facts” and proceed from that basis. In this case for example we’d have to survey an adequate number of executives and measure their responses. Some might have no resistance to creating a “learning organization” while others might not like the term at all…that in turn would take further digging to get at the crux of the issue.

On the latter half of the question (letting the future deteriorate without doing anything about it) we’d have to take the same approach. My guess is that most leaders would not agree with it and argue they are doing something about the future – at least in their own minds they are…

However we won’t get that data in for this month’s question. Someone would have to go out and do the hard work of getting the facts and trying to make sense of all the data. That is not going to happen on this humble little blog spot…So instead I will just give you sheer opinion and conjecture on the topic. For starters I suspect that a lot of people (myself included) just are not enamored of the term learning organization. I am not saying that it is wrong but I am arguing that like the term “Lean” it puts some people off before you even get started. A “learning organization” sounds too much like a library or a university. That just does not resonate with all types of people. If suspect that if you substitute the term “performance organization” that more executive interest would perk up but that is just a hunch. Of course I think that creating a strong performance organization requires having an organization that practices learning in line with something like the PDCA cycle practiced inside of Toyota. So partly I’d bet there are some basic semantics and other factors at work on this angle…

Secondly despite what the question implies I’d wager that most executives think they are doing something about the future. The “what” they are doing however often does not fit with our perception of “what” they should be doing in many cases or the “how” for that matter. Some of that is subjective perhaps and some a legitimate difference of opinion. I don’t think that the topic of Lean Improvement has been articulate in a way that inspires or convinces all leaders that this is what they should follow. Some leaders are comfortable with the basic tenants of Lean and others are turned off by the connotation and the contents. Much of that I suspect is due to normal factors of human resistance and poor explanation on the part of many (myself included). Again this is guesswork on my part and would require investigation by someone with the time and interest to figure out. In the mean time like most of my peers I’ll stick to working with a few clients and provide what insight I can. That safe model has benefits but also is not a recipe for changing the opinions of top executives world wide in one fell swoop. As the old saying goes you can lead a horse or camel to water…but you can’t always make them drink.

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