Santa’s Little Kaizeneers?


Thanks to my friend Sylvain for sending me this cartoon. It would have been more timely for me to share this before Christmas, but there's an opportunity for improvement.

The cartoon series is called Real Life Adventures by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich. This particular cartoon appeared on December 13, 2017.

Here's the top part… please click through to their website to see the entire cartoon:

The joke doesn't need any explaining, but I think these are familiar themes in many organizations.

We have elves who are, of course, quite handy and skilled. They are probably technically capable of lowering the time clock or adding a platform or building something that would allow them to reach it more easily and more safely. They want to improve. They want to make their work easier. But, they're frustrated. At least they care.

Having ideas is great, but you need to be able to implement the idea. Sometimes the barrier is cultural. Sometimes, it's a matter of the frontline staff needing support from maintenance, IT, or another department.

When our KaiNexus group toured the Toyota San Antonio plant recently, the guide pointed out a part of the plant they call the “Kaizen Area” more or less. I explained to the KaiNexus team that the guide didn't mean that workshop is the only place where Kaizen occurs. Kaizen occurs where you have ideas anyplace in the factory. But, that Kaizen workshop is where fixtures, racks, or other tools are constructed when a Kaizen requires that sort of physical change and support.

I see many situations in workplaces where people have ideas AND the capability to implement them. But, leaders and the culture won't allow it. It's sad to think that Santa has created an environment here where the elves can't bring up their concern to him directly.

Effective leaders not only listen to their employees… they also encourage people to speak up. That means responding in a way that reinforces that it's safe to speak up. Leaders need to avoid discouraging people. If we ask people to speak up and then just file away their concerns or ideas, people will stop speaking up. Professor Ethan Burris refers to this as “futility,” as I've blogged about:

Is Fear the Only Reason Employees Don't Speak Up?

HBR Article on Avoiding the Futility of Suggestion Systems

We've known for a long time that suggestion boxes aren't the way to build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement. So, even if the elves lowered the suggestion box, what good is it if the box is where “good ideas go to die?”

A “Kaizen” methodology is very different than the stale, old suggestion box method.

Here are some of my blog posts on suggestion boxes:

The State of This Restaurant's Suggestion Box Didn't Really Surprise Me Much

Suggestion Boxes are Disliked & Ineffective Around the World

When Will The Federal Government & VA Learn? On Suggestion Boxes & Incentives

Why It's OK That This Suggestion Box Was Full of Cobwebs

And a few videos:

And a longer webinar on the topic:

Is your organization more like Santa's village than you'd want to admit?

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

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

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articlePodcast #298 – Billy Taylor, Lean Manufacturing Leadership, Part 2
Next article[Updated] Somebody *Did* Get Unjustly Fired in Hawaii, But System Problems Should be Blamed
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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.