At Last, a scientific analogy of Lean failures and Lean Mediocrity
Managers across the world imagine a utopia of “self-managing teams” working hard to continually take their organisation to the next level of perfection. For many, progress will be made, only for decline and recession to dash their dreams, and force a compromise with reality. The problem is, many people take things like “Operational Excellence” too lightly – they treat it like another initiative, something to do rather than something to be. They underestimate the energy and commitment required of themselves, and their management team not only to get their organisation to industry best, but more importantly, the energy and commitment to keep it there. They fail to consider ENTROPY.
Until the other day, I had never come across the word “entropy”, so please don’t mistake me for one that reads a thesaurus for evening relaxation. I was having an interesting discussion with one of my Senior Lean Consultant’s, Peter, who happens to have a degree in Chemistry. He mentioned that in the scientific world of thermodynamics, there is a law that dictates that entropy will always increase with time. Time to explain the meaning of ENTROPY:
lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder
My learned colleague went on to explain, “there is no such thing as perpetual motion or free energy in thermodynamics, unless additional energy is constantly applied, ENTROPY will prevail”.
The light bulb went on – actually, there is no such thing as perpetual motion or free energy full stop. So in terms of Lean, can we logically assume that there is a law concerning Entropy? I think we can.
Entropy in business operations might look like the following
LEAN ENTROPY LOOKS LIKE THIS
Culture Change to sustain!
A lot has been written about culture change being the most important element in sustaining Lean and continuous improvement benefits and providing a platform for future improvement. We often hear the mantra “we must develop a culture of continuous improvement” from management teams across the globe. But what about LEAN ENTROPY? Any images of Eutopia should shatter at this point, because in reality sustaining the culture that sustains improvement will be an even bigger challenge.
So what sustains a business organisation culture?
Answer: ENERGY, it needs to be in the form of Leadership Energy, and unfortunately it isn’t free. Prior to consulting, I felt this first-hand over 13 years within Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK. I often thought about the culture we had developed there and how much it differed to other car manufacturers just down the road. I also wondered how long it would take for us to drift back to let’s say a more “traditional” British car manufacturing culture without constant leadership drive and energy. Not long I suspect.
Do the basics well, and more importantly, reward them well!
Doing the leadership basics well is time consuming and often undervalued, yet it is the basics that are most important. Senior leaders walking the floor daily, looking at visual performance boards without invite, commenting on successes, advising upon closing gaps to targets – all actions that drive behaviours and ultimately culture. Those junior managers that can respond instantly to the leader’s comments and questions are on the ball, and probably do their basics well too. This is the kind of energy that senior leaders must look for in their management teams – it will fuel sustainability and stop Entropy in its tracks.