Dare to Wear this Button?


I've written before about the “Ask Me” campaign that runs in many hospitals, usually in context of “ask me if I've washed my hands.” One hospital runs a slight variation of the buttons and a sign campaign that encourages patients, families, and employees to “ask me why” in regards to patient safety and other good practices and initiatives. It's not strictly a “lean” thing, but isn't this a great thing to encourage? Don't we want our employees asking “why?” in any industry? What about in manufacturing?

It's a key part of the Toyota Way and Lean management approach to encourage people to ask why. It's also a key part of the approach to EXPLAIN why, as I've written about before also.

Lean leaders don't TELL people what to do. They convince them why they should do something. They explain why. They encourage people to ask why. Doing so and allowing people to do so is one simple, yet powerful, way to show “respect for people.” In my Lean consulting work, I always ask people to ask me and our team “why.” Why are we making these changes? Why do we have to try doing it this way? Why can't we do it our old way? We even ask people to challenge the Toyota teachings, as in Why do we have to do it Toyota's Way? It's all healthy discussion and leads to better solutions that people believe in.

You might think you're short cutting the process by telling people what to do. It's quicker and easier, right? But do people really do as they're told? When you're not looking? There might be times, for the sake of safety or patient quality that you do “tell” people (“you MUST wear your personal protective equipment”), but you can also take the extra moment to explain why (“it's your own safety and well-being.”)

How would your day change, as a leader, if you wore this button? Would you dare? How would “asking why?” improve 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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