Archive for September, 2012

Airplane Oxygen Masks and Lean Leadership Responsibility

We’ve all heard the flight attendant’s compulsory safety announcement regarding oxygen masks. Personally, I’ve grown pretty numb to the whole safety monologue.

Not a good thing.

During a relatively recent trip on a Southwest flight there was a refreshing twist to the typically sober announcement.

It went something like this, “In the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.”

Pretty funny.

But, the truth is there’s a reason that the parent (or guardian) should don the mask first and THEN attend to his or her charge(s). The parent needs to maintain his mental and physical faculties so that he can effectively take care of others. This is not self-serving.

So, this leads (surprise, surprise!) to a lean metaphor.

Lean leaders need to put on the oxygen mask first.

The “oxygen” here is lean competency.

Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis in their book, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development, which I highly recommend, captures this notion well.

Their Toyota Way Leadership Model reflects the following. Please note the ORDER.

  1. Commit to Self-Development. Learn to live True North values through repeated learning cycles,
  2. Coach and Develop Others. See and challenge true potential in others through self-development learning cycles,
  3. Support Daily Kaizen. Build local capability throughout for daily management, and
  4. Create Vision and Align Goals. Create True North vision and align goals vertically and horizontally.

Leaders can’t teach what they do not have. So, they must first put on the oxygen mask of understanding (or at least genuinely commit to and begin to walk the road to understanding) before they can effectively and credibly BEGIN to coach and develop others.

With that, good luck deciding which colleague you first assist with that oxygen mask thing.

Related posts: Book Review: Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, Why Do You Ask?, 12 Narrow Lean Gates

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Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?

In many ways, visual controls are a 24/7 mirror of leadership’s competency and credibility.

That’s pretty scary if you think about it.

It’s like voluntarily living in a fishbowl. Not that everyone truly understands the gravity of that.

It reminds me of the Spider-Man quote (allegedly borrowed from Voltaire or someone before him), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, with the application of visual controls comes great responsibility.

Effective visuals are a universal, self-explaining, unapologetic proclamation to anyone within eyesight and possession of some basic (lean) thinking, that this here, taken together as a system, is our current process health and level of process adherence and sufficiency. This is the established standard, providing insight into one or more of the what, why, where, when (timing, sequence, conditions), how much, how long, who, with whom, targets, and trends. It necessarily highlights the abnormal condition(s)…and prompts correction.

Of course, a lack of competency is belied by visual controls that are tool-driven. We’ve all seen the hodge-podge of stuff  – disconnected visuals that are not part of a system and not applied within the context of a lean management system.

Silly “eye candy.”

Or the visual that is not, as it’s supposed to be, worker-managed…and thus is not maintained, or not maintained consistently, or not maintained properly…and leadership doesn’t seem to care.

So, no one cares.

It may be because the visual control is not sufficient. Or it’s an adherence issue. Or both.  Or perhaps, when problems are identified, no one knows what to do next.

Problem-solving, anyone?

Either way, it turns out to be a leadership competency AND credibility thing.

Naked, for the world to see.

And, the world judges.

The world, whether it’s customers, community, associates, managers, or executives eventually come to a conclusion that lean doesn’t work, the company doesn’t care, leadership doesn’t know what they heck they’re doing, the folks don’t have any discipline, etc.

This leads me to the hotel towel thing.

I’m sure most folks who have stayed in a hotel have seen the rather ubiquitous sign or placard that says something about saving the planet. The verbiage, however clunky, seeks to appeal to our sense of social (and environmental) justice.

Yes, washing towels needlessly is MUDA!

So, I always hang them up after each use.

And, about 80% of the time, housekeeping takes the towel away (and presumably washes it)!

So, I judge the hotel and its leadership. They don’t care about saving the planet!

Make me cynical.

Not a very lean feeling.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Visual of the Visual?, Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes

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