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Tracey Richardson

Tracey Richardson: Involvement and engagement of people at their process(es) where the work is being done must be a priority

By Tracey Richardson, - Last updated: Saturday, July 14, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

It’s always music to my ears when I hear a company is willing to invest time in people development from the executives to the floor level of the organization.  I believe that the training of the concepts or values are just the beginning of the lean journey, the more difficult task is the sustainment, improvement and growth of leaders and their practices to ensure the company is doing business in a way that meets customer expectations through people engagement in the value stream of order to customer.

As we have all heard throughout time in the TWI realm that “repetition is the motherhood of all skills”, this holds true to the discipline of a Lean journey.   I rely upon my past experiences at Toyota where respect for people was first and foremost and that behavior was an expectation not a choice.   Many folks think of that as the old cliche’ or golden rule of “respect me and I will respect you”, its partially true, but in the Lean world it’s much deeper than that.  To remain focused and move forward in your journey  the development, involvement and engagement of people at their process(es) where the work is being done must be a priority even when we feel its not always in the best interest of the company (productivity).  What I mean by that is, some companies can slip into the mindset of people development as an “event” – or we set aside time for it.  If it’s not practiced everyday with everybody, even when our minds may be thinking productivity may be suffering if we stop the line to ask questions, this counter intuitive action can create a bad habit in a leader to react “by quickly reversing that andon”, versus ask a couple of quick questions to capture the discrepancy.

The pitfall can easily shift a mindset that people see their development as “only when we have time for you”, that production comes first. The andon cord I bring up above (if you have that mechanism, its not necessary): It’s meant to give the team member a voice to say “I see an abnormality”, if we condition them (develop a habit based on leadership expectations) to stop the line any time then we are empowering them to feel as if they are making a difference with quality and that their opinion counts. This could be deemed as problem awareness as the first level of framing a problem. A common pitfall to this is that a company can begin to add up the times the line stops and begin to pull the cord to refrain from the “clock ticking downtime” before enough questions are asked to understand what the abnormality actually was. If this habit begins then the focus shifts on results “just get the line moving”, instead of people development, empowerment, engagement and problem solving (process vs results).

This is where the discipline has to be enforced as a way we do business.  It’s very similar to a person on a journey of working out and/or losing weight, do we go to the gym when we would rather be doing something else like eating a tasty dessert.   When a person can fore go the dessert and get to the gym then a discipline or habit has started because they are beginning to see the reward of their process getting them the results.

For example I was once told by my leaders that if the key performance indicators are used to tell you how good your doing then you could be tracking the wrong things or masking waste.  Key performance indicators should tell you when a change is needed in your processes.  The common mistake I see from my time in organizations are that results (lagging indicators) are heavily tipped on the scales and processes (leading indicators) are barely a blip on the map much less standards in place to see a discrepancy.   When this happens the people development side takes a back seat to the “numbers”, and without disciplined engagement, involvement and challenging of people on a hourly/daily basis then long term sustainability and growth will only be short term at best and leaders can easily revert back to the comfort zone of reactivity instead of proactivity.   When this happens your leaders are fire-fighting and your team members are carrying the hose.

I think if an organization puts accountability and discipline towards engaging people, then its much more prepared for the long term success and growth and that in turn grows future leaders as they begin to mimic those actions and habits.  Good ways to engage people are just by asking questions as a servant leader, encourages activities such as quality circle involvement (team problem solving), suggestion system (not just quantitative ideas, but qualitative with support with implementation at the gemba), task force groups, and auditing of processes.  These type of activities allow shared wisdom to take place, its allows the leader to grow as the people grow facilitating itself for a never ending leading and learning environment.  To me and my experiences living and teaching it, these actions give a company the best chance for a success rate.  Never lose focus of your people, as Eiji Toyoda says in the Toyota Way book – “People are the most important asset of a company and can be the determinant of the rise and fall of one”.   Tracey Richardson- thetoyotagal

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