Final installment of the Change
Since the fire of change had been ignited and embraced by the willing workers and their direct supervisors, it was time for the managers to raise the bar for themselves. According to management consultant Peter Scholtes, teams go through stages as they develop: forming, storming, norming, and performing. As work progressed, the management team started storming. Using cause-and-effect and flow charts, the consultant hypothesized that the root cause was a systemic problem with communication by technology.
Management relied almost exclusively on the use of the BlackBerry, which facilitates instantaneous communication, but also instant gratification and interruption. Poorly written, unedited messages jammed into a screen the size of a cell phone are not an ideal form of communication. E-mails and text messages take the focus away from the work floor and value stream and, therefore, should be managed with great care.
Technology brings with it wonderful possibilities, but one needs to harmonize it with the people who will have to use it, and the company’s vision, mission, and objectives. E-mail and text messages were examined in detail, the waste of time and resources they created were graphed, and classes were held in which people acted out various communications to find better ways. All the managers received a business card–size sheet that clarified what form of communication was appropriate in a given situation.
But there were other communications issues to confront. More talk took place behind backs than to people’s faces, and assumptions based on seemingly unimportant cultural stereotypes were obstacles to real communication. The consultant kept reminding the staff to “blame the system, not the people working in the system; 96 percent of the time you will be right.” With time, bad habits began to fall by the wayside, but one of the key players could not give up his antagonism, and he left the company.
The consultant worked with the managers and owner to help them learn new and more effective communication tools to prevent a relapse to old, ineffective ways. For example, he taught them: that what we mean to say is not necessarily what people hear, so it is important to frame one’s words according to the listener’s point of view; how to break down barriers between functional departments by having a representative of every functional group in the company meet for three to five minutes every day to share what they are working on that day; and how to document and influence the flow of all projects by tracking them in a condensed visual format on a single sheet of paper, a tool created and championed by Toyota.
Once people felt safe to speak their minds without fear of retribution and the management team moved from storming to norming, open dialogue blossomed at the facility. Profitability has flourished as well, with the bottom-line profit increasing 484 percent since the beginning of the project in 2007.
Although great progress has been made, the transformation is not complete. The son was able to help prepare the local management to assume command but decided that the situation was not what he wanted. Local management is functioning well, but only when the supervisors are fully trained—and they have trained their willing workers—will management be able to delegate day-to-day responsibilities to those who actually do the day-to-day work. Only then can they concentrate on their real job of leading the company, facilitating change, and cultivating knowledge—both in the company and among themselves—and enlist everyone’s help in continuously improving the system.
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