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The other day, I watched the online archive of a webinar given by Mike Hoseus, co-author of Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way.
You can use the link at the top of this post to listen the free audio archive (with registration) and even download the slides in PDF form. The message that he sent is applicable to any industry.
One story that intrigued me was Hosus talking about how, when he was an early employee at Toyota’s Georgetown Kentucky plant, he was sent to Japan to work on the assembly line for 30 days. Before he could be a team leader (the first level of supervision at Toyota, with 4 to 5 direct associates reporting to him), he had to work the line.
Why? “To build empathy” for those doing the work. How great is that?
Compare that to the old GM approach (still in place when I started in 1995) of taking a freshly-graduated engineer and making them the supervisor over a process they didn’t understand, supervising people they might have trouble relating to. That was a formula for disaster.
Now looking at healthcare, it’s much more common for charge nurses, supervisors, or team leaders to be promoted up from the rank and file. Most of the managers (even executives) have done the work of the people they manage. A VP of nursing tends to be a nurse. I do know one extremely effective laboratory director who came in from a nursing background — she was effective, but had a lot of work to do to build trust and respect from the staff.
So, in the cases where managers are promoted up — that natural empathy should be there. But why do healthcare leaders often fall into the same types of manager and supervisor behavior that I saw at GM, a non-Lean environment?? Why do managers plead for people to be careful, to work harder, to suck it up and not complain… they should feel empathy, but I guess the greater management system that they’re now a part of sends the same message… keep your head down, don’t make waves.
That’s why the cultural transformation effort required for Lean seems so similar to me comparing manufacturing to healthcare. It’s all about how you lead. It’s all about having empathy and being a servant leader, not being “the boss.” Having empathy doesn’t mean being a pushover – it means being able to put yourself back in the shoes of the people doing the work.
What do you see in your organization, in terms of supervisors or managers — do you have to build empathy? Do you have to help them not lose their sense of empathy once they become part of management?
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