Never Tell a Person What to Do… So, Here’s What You Should Do Instead

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At KaiNexus, we love our customers and we're constantly impressed by what they're saying and, more importantly,what they're doing and accomplishing.

We recently published a video on our YouTube Channel with Matthew Cannistraro from Harrington Air Systems.

He has a lot to say about improvement, but I love this expression that he passes along from his grandfather (the founder of their family business):

“Never tell a man what to do. Tell him what you want done and be amazed by his ingenuity.”

I love it. That shows how Lean and Kaizen are different than old-school “command and control” management styles where leaders bark orders and (even if without barking) tell them what to do and HOW to do it.

Here's the whole video:

In a Lean culture, leaders communicate goals and strategies. They might define how success is going to be measured. Managers might help point out problems, but they draw on their employees to figure out how to solve problems and improve the system. Over time, employees will get more comfortable with (and better at) pointing out problems so they can help solve them.

Kaizen is not about telling people how to change their standardized work. Lean is not about dictating standardized work to people or forcing them to do things. Kaizen is not about employees throwing complaints to the managers while expecting the managers to fix everything for them.

It takes collaboration, discussion, trust, empowerment, and a willingness to try new things, realizing you might “fail” (or have setbacks that help you learn).

Matthew continues, with a smile that suggests this is one habit from his grandfather that he won't continue:

“He would bite your head off if you made a mistake, but at least the door was open for someone to try something different, so that's our foundation in continuous improvement.”

Beyond the culture, he also talks about how difficult it can be to track and measure improvement as a company gets bigger… so he talks about moving away from Google Docs to our KaiNexus platform.

How often are you amazed by your employees' ingenuity?

If I hear managers say things like, “My people won't have good ideas,” I challenge them to give it a try. I guarantee them that “a lack of good ideas” is never the bottleneck in the improvement process.

Give people a try. Coach them. They might “fail.” If so, keep coaching and working with them. Getting good at continuous improvement requires a lot of continuous improvement. It never starts out with a perfect improvement process or perfect ideas.

Matthew says:

“[KaiNexus] provides visibility into our culture of improvement and be able to identify which managers are managing well (for improvement) and which ones aren't. Which ones are empowering their employees to make change and which ones are assigning too many [opportunities for improvement] to themselves.  That was all stuff that was going on under the surface and holding us back before, but it was totally invisible.”

KaiNexus helps make that visible so the upper-level managers can see where they need to coach others. You can also see this video and a different summary on the KaiNexus website.

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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

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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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