Archive for August, 2011

Beware the Headhunter

picture from Wikipedia

To avoid confusion, the term headhunter in this post does not refer to those who: 1) take the severed head of others as some sort of trophy (that practice, as far as I know, is defunct), or 2) find, at a price, qualified candidates for employment at their clients. Rather, we’re talking about those leaders who see their own employees as fungible things, as ”heads.”

That thinking is clearly counter the lean principle of respect for the individual.

Tell me that you’ve never observed these headhunters! They blow quickly by the first three objectives of improvement (easier, better, and faster), and get straight to cheaper. Cheaper of course means reducing heads – not the size of heads, that would be head shrinking. Some of the other kind of headhunters did that…

Headhunters seek productivity improvements. Productivity is a wonderful thing. As the lean scion, Art Byrne said, “Productivity = wealth.” That’s absolutely true…unless you squander it. Headhunters squander the wealth.

They see productivity as an opportunity to take out heads. You can usually identify them easily. They often say things like, “There are 37 heads in that department,” or “How many heads can we take out?” Their comfort in using the term “heads,” belies their values and motives.

They don’t understand one of the oldest and most foundational promises of lean – no one loses their employment due to productivity improvement.

This is not a lifelong promise of a specific job, but it is employment security. It certainly does not preclude redeploying folks to different positions, but it often provides new opportunities for personal growth.

I wonder if headhunters can get wrap their headhunting heads around an institution like Toyota. Toyota has often said that they don’t build cars as much as people.

During the depths of the last recession and beleaguered by the ostensibly false, but publicly widespread belief that Toyota was complicit in the unintended acceleration thing, Toyota could have laid many of their folks off. Certainly, others in the industry were doing it. Instead they chose to invest their “idle” time in training and kaizen. Their belief was that if they laid-off a 10 year employee, they would lose the wealth of experience and long-developed skill set (like problem-solving). It would take 10 years to develop a new one!

Doesn’t that make a LOT of sense?

So, when you identify a headhunter, try to convert them. Extol the virtues of in-sourcing and growing the business as well as growing people. If the conversion is unsuccessful, consider running away…fast.

Related posts: Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order, Humility, or What Does Dirt Have to Do with Lean?


6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings

Regular tiered meetings are a staple of any company’s lean management system. The quick stand-up meetings represent part of the daily accountability process which, when combined with leader standard work and visual controls, provide the foundation for sustaining gains, rigorously practicing lean behaviors, aligning the organization, and moving to daily kaizen. Great stuff!

The effectiveness of any tiered meeting is largely driven by the leader. Here, we’re talking about multiple levels of leadership. For example, Tier I is usually comprised of the natural work team with the team leader being the supervisor or, well…team leader. Tier II often has a broader composition (and focus) and may be led by the value stream leader with line supervision and support folks participating. Tier III may be led by the plant manager, or general manager, etc. and have still a wider focus.

The backdrop for tiered meetings is primarily a visual process performance metric board and is supplemented with things like a task accountability board, posted leader standard work, suggestion status board, etc.

So, let’s get to the 6 habits. Tiered meeting leaders need to regularly practice certain behaviors in order to facilitate an effective meeting and engage the stakeholders. In no certain order:

  1. Follow standard work. Like anything lean, the tiered meetings should have their own standard work, including the agenda/sequence, timing and duration, and required visuals. The leader needs to adhere to the standard work or modify it, but never blow it off. Time management is big here. I once had a client who started the meeting by setting an egg timer. Once the timer went off, the meeting was concluded…even if he was mid-sentence. We want meeting participants, not hostages.
  2. Tell the story. An old sensei taught me that, “Charts talk, people don’t.” What does that mean? Tiered meeting leaders don’t need to over-narrate the obvious. Good visual performance metrics show trends and targets. However, the leader’s job is to weave together the story, if there is one within a particular metric and/or between metrics.  For example, underwriting inventory and aging is well within target, which means we have some available capacity to go visit some agents and help drive new business…which, as we can see from the new business metric(s), is lagging behind by x…so, let me know by noon what your business development plans are for the rest of the week.
  3. Integrate. Consistent with telling the story, the leader needs to integrate beyond what is just hanging on a performance metric board. There are many other relevant sources of insight: leader standard work observations, tier meeting points (suggestions, problems, etc.) from the level above or below, plan vs actual activity, customer feedback, etc. The leader’s job, among other things, is to expand the team member’s line of sight and ultimately their lean thinking.
  4. Get closure. Nothing is worse than talking about the same problem day after day. It’s absolutely maddening.  We need to “kill” problems, so that they don’t come back again. This can only be done by properly defining the problem, identifying the root cause(s), formulating an effective countermeasure(s), assigning the countermeasure, executing the countermeasure and validating that the countermeasure worked. The leader must make sure that the team gets good at getting closure. Often this requires a separate kaizen activity.
  5. Engage stakeholders. The tier meeting has to pass the “so what?” test. Meeting visuals and dialogue must be understandable, important, and actionable. Otherwise, the meeting is more like watching a cable weather report. The leader has to be adept at reading whether the participants are checked in or out. If they’re in sleep mode, then the leader needs to change things up, call people out, educate folks as to what the metrics mean and why they’re important, make people take a rotation as a meeting leader…whatever it takes.
  6. Pull ideas and facilitate problem-solving. Tier meeting participants need to regularly use their eyes for waste and flex their problem-solving muscles. The meeting is an opportunity for the team to reflect on the last 24 hours, anticipate the next 24 hours, and discuss issues, problems and opportunities. Daily kaizen means a lot of voluntary kaizen. The leader can breed this through challenge, creativity, courage, and coaching, within the context of employee suggestions, kaizen circle activities, etc.

Related posts: Lean Management Systems and Mysterious Performance Metrics, “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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The Best or Nothing

I just contributed a guest post of the same title to Christian Paulsen’s Lean Leadership blog. Please visit his site to read my full post and to take in some of Chris’ excellent lean content. Chris shared some of his insight with us a while back in his Gemba Tales guest post, 5 Reasons You Need to Do a DMAIC.


Recently, Mercedes Benz introduced a new brand claim. You may have seen it on TV or in print. It uses a direct quote from founding father Gottlieb Daimler, “The best or nothing.”

It sounds cool. Not that I’m ready to shell out a boat-load of money for a sexy new car. But, it clearly gets across that the Mercedes guys are uncompromising.

As a top executive from Mercedes Benz put it, “For us, [it] means we want to deliver the very best in all areas – be that in research and development, production, sales, service and aftermarket business or in purchasing.”

I have a hard time arguing with that. I know what they mean. It’s a powerful and noble principle.

And yet, the words grate on my (hopefully) lean thinking mind.


…The figure below summarizes much of my thinking on this subject, while my full post can be found here.


click to enlarge


Other Hamel guest posts: “Do” Only Gets You Half the Way There, or…“No Pie for You!” (on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog), Subsidiarity: A (Medieval) Lean Principle (on Ron Pereira’s LSS Academy Blog)

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