• Bill Greider

Lean Tip: Change Your To-Do List!

Change management is hard. Or, put another way, change is fun (as long as I don't have to be the one changing). In the early days of my lean journey, my Sensei told me "not to expect much from lean if my daily routines stay the same." He went on to say that "if you are doing the same things you do now one year from today, you will fail."

Gulp! My company lean badly. Cash flow issues (tons of orders, but tons of inventory), employee morale issues, and lots of chaos. Things had to change. I decided the goal was to become a true learning organization. I decided that everyone in the company was going to start reading and learning together. Once per week for an hour. Wednesday mornings at 9 am. Each week we covered a chapter of "Lean Thinking", and people did quizzes on what they read.

Let the kicking and scratching begin. There was almost a mutiny. "I wasn't hired to do quizzes!". Whispering and complaining became an Olympic sport. Entire departments didn't talk to me for a month at a time. At the same time, I was certified as a lean champion. After Lean Thinking, I bought 80 copies each of The Toyota Way, then The Goal, then Inside the Magic Kingdom, then Jumpstart Your Business Brain and then It's Your Ship, and we went through those books and people did quizzes.

We also asked everyone to look at ways to improve their own processes. The least I could do was fix my job too right? Customers don't pay extra for managers, foreman and supervisors. We don't do "value added work". The only value I could provide every day was to work hard to help develop people, or as Toyota puts it....."build leaders".

I needed to change my routines. I applied 5S to my day, starting with sort. One of the first red tag items was browsing through countless periodicals and junk mail. Many of the trade magazines were free for filling out a subscription card. I'd browse through them, find something interesting, and circulate it to 5 or 10 people to read or review. There were also index card-sized supplier decks in my mailbox I sorted through. If you mailed it, I read it. Well I stopped all that cold turkey.

Next was re-thinking e-mails. They needed to be read, replied to and/or forwarded (cc or bcc) or sometimes put in a folder, later, read again and deleted etc. I found myself, writing e-mails to people right down the hall. I found myself being copied on e-mails so the sender could cover their behinds. Again, I quit cold turkey. Only people outside the building got e-mails. If you were inside the building, I would go and see you. I was able to convince others to do the same.

Another big non-value added activity was meetings. People would arrive when they could (late), and the agenda could be expanded to last hours (especially the weekly senior leadership meeting). One of the single best side benefits of doing A3 is people learn to do incredibly productive and focused 20 minute meetings. Anyone who agreed to a meeting and came late was fined $1 per minute....there was a jar in the middle of the table, and the dollars went to charity at the end of the year. In the beginning, this was an expensive way to learn respect for people.

People also needed to see me "on the floor" every single day. I made "going to see" at least 3 A3 leaders daily part of my standard work. I needed to demonstrate that the projects they were working on were important. I recruited other leaders to do the same thing. I showed up at people's daily start-up meetings. I sat in on weekly stand up Group Leader and Team Leader meetings, sometimes asking questions. There is nothing value added about managing my desk, stapler and computer. I learned more about people and their lives when I started leading A3 than I learned in the first 10 years at the company.

The point is, don't ever expect people to change the way they think until you demonstrate a willingness to change completely what you do and be consistent and predictable. My goal was for people to say "Bill expects us to change, but NOBODY in the company has changed more than him." Otherwise, I was just talking a good game.

It falls under my favorite quote of all time...."if you want results others don't get, you need to be willing to do things others won't do."

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