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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