Heroes, Fire Fighters, Toyota


San Antonio: a blueprint to lure Toyota – Triad – MSNBC.com:

An article about how San Antonio and Texas lured the soon-to-open Toyota plant, with 20 years of relationship building.

“‘Toyota spends a lot more time developing people,' Hall said. ‘You make your mark in Toyota because of your ability to develop other people. Being a superstar is an American idea. Being a developer of others is Toyota's idea.'”

This reminds me of Jim Womack's recent email newsletter about American manufacturing needing more “farmers” who grow businesses over time, instead of being fire fighters (or “heroes”. Jim wrote, in part:

“The job of the hero is to tackle a situation in which everything is out of control and quickly impose some semblance of order. And sometimes heroes are necessary. Taiichi Ohno, Shotaro Kamiya, Kenya Nakamura, and Kiichiro Toyoda certainly took heroic actions at Toyota at moments of crisis as the company's core processes were being defined after World War II.

But heroes shouldn't be necessary once an organization is transformed. Instead every important process should be steadily tended by a “farmer” (who we often call a value-stream manager) who continually asks three simple questions: Is the business purpose of the process correctly defined? Is action being steadily taken to create value, flow, and pull in every step of the process while taking out waste? Are all of the people touching the process actively engaged in making it better? This is the gemba mentality of the farmer who year after year plows a straight furrow, mends the fence, and obsesses about the weather, even as the heroic pioneer or hunter who originally cleared the land moves on.”

From my experience, most companies ignore the managers who have smooth processes and never have fires break out. It's the heroes and fire fighters who are recognized as leaders and who get promoted usually. Is the same true in your organization?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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