Guest Post: You Don’t Have to be Lean to be Good

Mark’s note: Today’s post is from a regular guest blogger and a friend of mine, Dan Markovitz – his regular blog can be found at his ‘TimeBack Management site. I saw Dan again a few weeks back at the Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit.

I’ve just arrived back from vacation yesterday, rested after some adventures, and I’ll be ready to resume blogging real soon. I hope you’ve enjoyed all of the guest bloggers and thoughts and ideas over the last 15 days. Again, thanks to everyone who participated.

And now, Dan’s post:

You Don’t Have to be Lean to be Good

Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule, recently blogged about the “12 Things Good Bosses Believe.” Now, Bob’s not a lean guy, but it’s striking how much overlap there is between his list and a list of qualities that most people would agree makes a good lean manager.

I won’t go through the entire list (though it’s well worth reading), but here are a few points where the connection between “good” and “lean” is really clear.

1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me. Bob’s point is that bosses are insulated from reality by their subordinates, and that, like all people, self-deluding. Recognizing this truth leads people to look for facts — not stories, hearsay, or gut feel. And that’s what Ohno preached.

2. Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my people to make a little progress every day. This is a total endorsement of the philosophy of kaizen. Steady improvement, and working through others, rather than some sort of self-aggrandizing reach for gold and glory.

3. My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well. What a beautiful form of respect for people. No, it’s certainly not comprehensive, but the idea of starting at home — “avoid imposing my own idiocy on them” — is a wonderful start. How much more humane would most companies be if this was the only step they took?

4. I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong — and to teach my people to do the same thing. This idea reminds me of John Shook’s notion of leading as if you have no authority, particularly as it applies to A3 problem solving.

5. One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake?” File this one under Deming’s principle of driving fear out of the organization. Humans will always makes mistakes, so it’s better to eliminate the fear and focus on how to reduce the likelihood of the errors.

6.   Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk — and not realizing it. This belief comes back to respect for people, on a local level. I think it’s interesting that two of Professor Sutton’s beliefs are rooted in the need for a boss to be mindful of how easy it is to hurt workers. All organizations are hierarchical at their cores. Taking advantage of the efficiency that comes from hierarchy while minimizing the damage that comes from those power relationships is a critical task for any good organization, particularly one that strives to be lean.

At this year’s Lean Transformation Summit, Jim Womack talked about the problem of traditional management (and managers). He was referring to the way managers measure performance, and how they are measured by their bosses. I think that Professor Sutton’s list fits nicely with Jim’s point. And if your company isn’t interested in pursuing lean, well, it shows that you don’t have to be “lean” to be a good boss.

About Dan (full bio): Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management, and is a faculty member of the Lean Enterprise Institute. He has worked with Qualcomm, WL Gore & Associates, the University of California, American Express, Merrill Lynch, the law firm of Fenwick & West, the NYC Department of Health, and Planned Parenthood of New York City, among other clients

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Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the StanfordUniversity ContinuingStudies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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