The Risks of Superficial Change


Rupert Cornwell: Cuban leader must learn from Gorbachev's mistakes – Commentators, Opinion – The Independent

I was reading this column yesterday and I thought of Lean and change management. As the author discusses reforms in Cuba, he opined:

Mr Castro's actions thus far have been tinkerings compared with the revolution of perestroika and glasnost unleashed by Mikhail Gorbachev. But, as he is surely well aware, in the late 1980s the Soviet Union got the worst of both worlds – at least from the point of view of its rulers.

Gorbachev's reforms broke the party's monopoly of political power, but also made the economy even more of a mess. By combining superficial market reforms with a refusal to challenge the entrenched bureaucracy, perestroika merely made an already inefficient and corrupt system even worse.

Does the same thing sometimes happen in Lean implementations? If there's a “superficial” reform, such as using a tool like 5S, without changing the “entrenched bureaucracy” (managers are always right and don't listen to the employees), could tinkering with Lean actually make things worse?

If we ignore the “respect for people” principle, waste elimination might be viewed as management pressuring the workers to work faster. If we're not fully involving people, we might get the wrong solutions and we might also alienate the very people who we need to have involved in Lean improvements.

What do you think? Have you seen superficial Lean efforts actually make your system worse as the result of “tinkering” and not adopting the Lean mindset, attitudes, and management system?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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