Survey Blames Blame for Lean Struggles
The LEI is out with their annual survey (pdf) about our ongoing struggles implementing Lean, with articles (reprinting the press release) and blog posts already written, The results aren't the views of the LEI, but are the views of the respondents to their survey.
The survey asks, in part, “What are the biggest obstacles to lean implementation at your facility?”
I appreciate the work the LEI does, but maybe they should change their survey to a “5 Whys” format to get to the “root cause” of these problems. The format of the current survey seems to ask “Who is the biggest obstacle…?”, which reeks of finger pointing, a practice that isn't supposed to be part of the Toyota Way. Instead of asking “who?” we are supposed to ask “why?” Update: Take our trial “5 Whys?” survey on this topic.
Before the blaming begins, last year's #1 reason was “backsliding,” which seems more an illustration or example of the Lean struggles than a cause itself. Anyway, it fell to #6 on the list this year. My nitpicking aside, if we're “backsliding to old ways of working” (as the LEI puts it) less, that's a good thing. Hooray, Lean world. Rather than just pointing at backsliding, a more appropriate question, for those who are still backsliding, would be “why are you backsliding?”
In this year's survey, the top obstacles are (in a “check all that apply” format):
- Middle management resistance (36.1%)
- Lack of implementation know-how (31.0%)
- Employee resistance (27.7%)
- Supervisor resistance (23.0%)
- Lack of crisis (17.7%)
And the list goes on through the 10 choices on the survey.
Viewed from the positive perspective, *only* 36% percentage of us face resistance from middle managers, which might not be that bad. 64% of us are able to get our middle managers on board, maybe those are the ones with a crisis to use as a motivation for Lean.
While the LEI press release headline says “New Survey: Middle Managers Are Biggest Obstacle to Lean Enterprise,” that's an unfortunate analysis. I would have titled it “Ineffective Leaders Blame Other Employees for Lean Enterprise Struggles.” Blame, blame, blame, maybe they could add “our ungrateful customers” and “our lousy suppliers” as survey choices next year?
Sorry to be blunt, but when we find ourselves saying (and trust me, I've caught myself saying it before) “this Lean effort would be going great only if so-and-so would get on board,” that's a cop-out and an excuse. It's blaming others and I don't think it's productive. It's OK to identify lack of buy-in as a problem, but then get to work on it! It's our job, as leaders, to get people on board. There are many ways of doing this and many books written on the topic already. It's not an altogether bad thing to recognize your managers are not on board with Lean, the question is what do you do about it?
#7 in the list hits on what I think is the real key: “Failure to overcome opposition.” That starts smelling like more of a root cause to me. And that was only about 4% of the responses. There's some leaders who are looking in the mirror (or maybe the respondents were pointing the finger of blame upward).
I followed up with Chet Marchwinski of the LEI and he told me they do not know the population distribution of who responded (the range from CEO to front-line employee), but it's interesting to see “Lack of top management support” isn't in the Top 10. Actually, Chet pointed out that it wasn't a choice and there were no open-ended responses allowed in their survey format. Based on some feedback from myself (and others), they are considering adding that as a category/choice for next year.
I hate to point fingers of blame myself, but I'm more willing to hold accountable the upper management levels who are responsible for strategy and overall company direction.
We could do a “5 Whys” analysis, which might look something like:
- Why are we backsliding? Because we're lacking employee buy in
- Why do we have that? Because the supervisors aren't bought in and aren't holding the employees accountable
- Why is that? Because the managers aren't explaining to the supervisors why Lean is critical to the company's success
- Why is that? Because upper management expects their employees to implement Lean because they said so and without any other leadership, support, or organization alignment
- Why is that? Because upper management is too busy blaming others (Wall St., China, suppliers, labor costs) to take the time to be leaders?
Any other thoughts? I'm actually going to pilot a “5 Whys” format of this same survey question to see if we can get to root causes and action and away from blame.