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InnovationLeanOrganisational cultureProductivityService ImprovementSystems Leadership

My Big Lean Head

5 October 2021

I’ve written several blogs where I have been quite open and honest about my big lean head. To experience this phenomenon you might like to revisit ‘Urgh, serve pizza faster! ’ or ‘Can I please have this baby AFTER I’ve first run a lean workshop? ’ …. but in the last few months I’ve had a couple of encounters where my perspectives on lean, have been well, challenged.

I know.  

You see, the more I see of the world of work, the more I doubt the bells and whistles of the NEXT BIG THING in improvement and the more I long for the simple truths of work that just, works.  When asked to share my expertise, I don’t want to dazzle with intricate, interactive tools that quite frankly, are only ever exciting to improvement specialists.  I want improvement tools that don’t make normal people heave a sigh of ‘here we go again’.  Indeed, I don’t particularly even want them to realise that they are taking part in an ‘improvement initiative’.  I want to cut through all of the noise and focus on what’s important and is so often, hideously missing from our organisations.

I have reached this point because:

  1. Trying to change an organisation from within is super hard. Like bafflingly difficult.  The only people who ever achieve it are in positions of power. Yes, you can have great change from the bottom up, but they’ll only achieve success if there’s someone with power who lets them make changes. After 16 years of trying to do this stuff I seriously think that improvements can only happen if senior people are genuinely open and hungry for change, and yes, allow it and encourage it to happen.
  2. And yet, so often answers and solutions are so much more simple than anyone wants to believe.  “Erm, answer the phone guys and listen to what people are telling you? And maybe, try doing what they ask?” Groundbreaking I know!
  3. Please know however that the people contacting you to ask for stuff really don’t care about how this organisation works in the same way that you do, they just want what they want. They want you to help them. Stop projecting your desires and expertise onto their interactions and just serve.
  4. So yes, stop making interactions more difficult than they need to be. Be helpful to your colleagues, your customers, and open yourself up to the possibility that you might need to still learn some things.  
  5. Cut people a break. Most people can only really cope with a couple of things at any one time. Stop drowning them in ‘stuff’ and ‘work’ that just isn’t important.
  6. And on that note, how many strategies can one person work to?! Unify all the strategies into one – for the most part they are all trying to achieve the same thing anyway.  Enable teams and individuals to respond to the unified strategy in what makes sense to them so that it becomes theirs.
  7. Do stuff. Like just get on and DO. Yes, we need to reflect on how the doing went, but seriously, just push yourself to see how much you can get done each day. It’s seriously tons.  You can do SO MUCH in 8 hours. Like a scary amount of work. It’s remarkable really!
  8. Try dedicating one of those 8 hours, or maybe even just 10 minutes, to thinking about how the work can work better. Reflect on the week before with your team. Think about the week ahead with your team.  Go through the diary and plan for what’s up and coming, don’t be afraid to do this for several months in advance.  Think about where things aren’t working and what you might do about it. So stop for a moment and think, then get back to the doing. Write to-do lists. Share to-do lists. Follow up on the to-do lists.
  9. Don’t get too hung up about which improvement methodology you might use to try to change things (just try a to-do list) because the more you look at different improvement methodologies, the more they all look the same.  Well that’s not entirely true, each wave of improvement is often triggered by a lack of focus on what has gone before it. But if you look closely, you can find the origins of the latest methodology in the past. Just think, ‘what’s going on here?’ and ‘how can it be better?’ – that’s often seriously enough. I mean it.
  10. Because what unites all of the improvement methodologies is a focus on what you’re there to deliver to people to make them happy or to fulfil their needs, be they a service or a product or a mixture of both. Success here relies on how good this proposition is, how fast you can deliver it, how it feels to buy or use, how much it costs. There are a myriad of different ways to achieve improvements in all of these things – concepts, tools, analytics, methodologies, theories (and I do know a lot about all of these things – honest!) – but at the end of the day the underpinning aims of improvement (Quality, Cost, Delivery, Service Experience) will always endure.  Share with staff what these factors look like in your organisation, how you’re all doing at them, and provide them with the environment and permission to try to do them better.

So there we have it. I’ve written another big head blog about why I can’t bear improvement big heads (such as myself 😁).

You see, the older and (hopefully wiser) I become, the more I simply value brilliant leaders. An inspiring leader that listens and gets stuff done, that challenges and helps people to be their excellent selves, will beat an improvement guru any day of the week.  Fact.