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Friday, August 9, 2019

Lean Quote: People Aren't Your Problem...It's Your Work Systems and Processes

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"People aren’t your problem. Your problem is that your work systems and processes don’t allow people to shine." — Karen Martin

When results don’t meet the targets set forth by management, organizations typically concentrate on placing blame by asking what people should do better or wanting to know who didn’t do what needed to be done to achieve better results. Focusing on what people can do better and how they can enhance performance or efficiency often results in short-term improvement, but with diminishing returns. Eventually, people run out of ideas, and repeated discussion about failed targets can demoralize even the most loyal employee.

Quality experts like Drs. Joseph M. Juran and W. Edwards Deming stress that the vast majority (85 to 94 percent) of the time, the answer is that it’s management's fault. They find the processes or systems in place are not up to the task of handling all the variations that exist in today's business climate, and as a result, managers have not enabled the organization to continuously improve its processes.

If an organization really wants a continuous improvement effort focused on improving its business, it must celebrate the mistakes and errors that result from inadequate processes or systems so they can be analyzed and corrected. Enlightened organizations don't look for someone to blame; they identify the problems that inevitably arise and encourage their people to expose these issues, rather than cover them up.

Organizations need to have a culture that encourages people to elevate process issues when they arise, rather than trying to hide them to protect themselves from blame. Managers must treat variances from expected results as valuable pearls of opportunity that allow the organization to improve, instead of costly errors that "somebody" made. Managers have to ask themselves, "Do I want a culture of blame and cover-up, or one of problem identification and resolution?" Leading organizations take the latter path and constantly work to identify problems. At the same time, they encourage their organizations to use continuous-improvement tools and techniques to make their processes more robust and prevent future recurrences.

Instead of asking employees what they can do better, managers should ask how the organization can make the process better so the outcome is more predictable. The focus should be on the process, not on the people. If a process works well and makes sense in the context of people’s work, employees will function well within it.

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