Today’s Dilbert – Employee Ideas, PHBs & Chipmunks

Today’s Dilbert is a very funny illustration of what goes wrong in what you might call “boss-driven suggestion systems.”

The first part of the strip, which starts off with the “pointy-haired boss” (PHB) asking Dilbert if he has any “great” ideas.

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What’s the threshold for “great”?

See the whole strip here.

The cartoon perfectly illustrates one of the problems with typical “suggestion box” systems. It’s also the same problem that we see with many “ideation” systems” — the evaluation of ideas is too often done by leaders or senior leaders (or a committee) that’s too disconnected from the actual work being done.

In the real world, it’s usually more subtle and more complex than the boss being “dumb.”

For one, there are different types of smart. I couldn’t evaluate a doctor’s proposed change to a clinical protocol any more than I could evaluate a microprocessor design. That doesn’t mean I’m dumb. I’d be dumb to put my own opinion above that of the real experts.

Secondly, managers who vote yes or no on suggestions might be smart, but are disconnected from the workplace or the “gemba” as we’d say in Lean. Staff might have a valid suggestion about solving a problem in their work… but managers don’t see the problem and, therefore, maybe it makes it easy for them to say “no” to spending a little bit of money.

In our Healthcare Kaizen books, Joe Swartz and I try to paint a pretty clear picture of how Kaizen is different than suggestion box systems. With Kaizen, managers empower and delegate… they are involved and collaborative rather than being in control.

That’s why Kaizen works so well.

What do you see out there? More Kaizen or more PHB behavior?


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Now Available – The updated, expanded, and revised 3rd Edition of Mark Graban’s Shingo Research Award-Winning Book Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Engagement. You can buy the book today, including signed copies from the author.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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