The Risks of Superficial Change

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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 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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