What Makes You Want to Do Better?


Recently, I was able to visit VIBCO, a Lean manufacturing company in Rhode Island. Company President Karl Wadensten is the host of “The Lean Nation” radio show. It was my third time visiting the factory in the last six months, walking the gemba to see first hand, hearing from their great employees.

This time, VIBCO was hosting a group of executives from a healthcare organization, so they could see the Lean culture that VIBCO has been working on developing the past few years.

There are many great examples of a Lean culture that I could write about, but I wanted to share one quick story about an exchange between one of the visiting execs and a VIBCO front-desk employee.

The two women who were working at the front desk (answering phone calls and customer requests, among other duties) were describing the impact of Lean on their work – how they standardized many of their activities and applied a Kaizen mindset to making their work easier. There were lots of little Lean improvements in place, stuff they had worked on themselves. They mentioned how they were able to get much more done during their day.

To some leaders, this type of initiative is unheard of in their organizations (and we should ask about the organizational root causes of people not taking initiative… it's not because the individuals are bad people).

So one of the visiting execs asked:

What makes you want to do better? What incentive do they give you?

There, we go — incentives. Many organizations are quick to assume that extrinsic rewards (oftentimes, money) are the only way to get people to take initiative (a form of “Theory X” thinking).   Followers of Dr. Deming (and now fans of Daniel Pink and his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) realize that people have incredible intrinsic motivation if you don't squash it, as an organization and leaders.

It's hard, for some, to believe that people would take initiative and be creative. You must be somehow bribing or rewarding them.

The VIBCO employee said, without much of a pause:

I want to do a good job.

Well there you have it! Simple as that. VIBCO has created an environment, as one of the other hospital execs pointed out at the end of the day, where everybody is an innovator. In each of my visits, I've been impressed with the creativity and innovation of the VIBCO employees from different areas.

As Paul Cary (his leanri.org blog is here), from VIBCO, said during the visit:

There's very little supervision here, but there's alignment and people know what they need to do.

It's all about having a culture that doesn't discourage people. Dr. Deming said you can't motivate people, you can only avoid DE-motivating them. VIBCO seems to have the formula.

Back to the front-desk exchange. The exec asked a follow up:

Are you working harder?

And the VIBCO employee responded:

“It doesn't feel like I'm working harder. I'm not stressed out. I'm getting more done and there's a sense of accomplishment.”

Now THAT's a lean culture we can all strive for.

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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.


  1. Comment from a facebook friend:

    “Three points:
    1) I just want to be better and do a better job.

    2) Doing what I do now is interesting, but if I don’t learn and do other things, it will get boring in just a year or two.

    3) See point #1”

  2. Put more succinctly by David LaHote at the LEI, “People just want to have a good day at work.” (I saw Dave speak at the U. of Michigan Lean Healthcare training last summer.)

    What is a good day at work? Being productive, making good quality, and not being hassled by the extraneous things that take me away from achieving good productivity and quality.

  3. The biggest thing is that I dislike wasting my time. I want to eliminate the things that waste my time. And that also means I want my time to be as beneficial as possible. Therefore I want to find ways to create more good consistently. It is great to improve the system because then I get to have my effort not just let me be more effective (which lets me create benefits in the future more effectively) but I get to have the benefit I spent my time on multiplied by lots of people being more effective.

    The only amount I care about other people noticing is when it helps me do more. Sometimes, it is helpful to get some new idea adopted if those responsible realize that they are benefiting from past improvements (otherwise people often just don’t want to change). The incentives others give me for doing better don’t matter to me. The one that matters most is letting me broaden the scope at which I work (so I can multiply the benefits I see from my effort).

    I also do care about being able to work from home several days a week – and avoid the commute and focus without the distractions at the office.

    I strongly believe a manager should focus on eliminating demotivation http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2006/04/20/stop-demotivating-employees/ http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2007/08/14/stop-demotivating-me/
    .-= John Hunter ´s last blog ..The Toyota Way – Two Pillars =-.

  4. As a vibco employee, I think to start a lean culture you need passion. Karl would have such energizing meetings with the whole company. After I left the meeting I wanted to kick some lean A@$ on the shop floor. lol All vibco emploees have countless hours in lean class. We were never taught how to physically remove the waste, we were taught how to identify the waste. Then we all came up with our own ways to physically remove the waste. That gave me the feeling of accomplishment and ownership of what I was doing.


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