Some years ago, my wife and I start getting into this show called Supernanny. The premise of the show is that an expert nanny would come into someone’s home with the intention to “fix” their naughty kids so the parents could have an easier go at it. As much as I, a relatively new parent at the time, got a kick out of the show and how dysfunctional some of the households were, I couldn’t help but think in the back of my mind that the kids were never really the problem.
Many of us Lean practitioners, or experts, have approached Continuous Improvement in much of the same way as the Supernanny. We come in and suggest to leaders that we’re going to train the employees and do kaizen events and use tools and BOOM; like magic, your “kids” are going to be polished and well behaved little angels from here on out.
Well if you ever watch Suppernanny all the way to the end, this lady, the child expert, does end up deploying some neat tools like accountability boards and rewards systems for the kids; however, the real improvement happens when she sits down with the parents to have the hard conversation. Each case is different but all to the nature of, “nothing is going to improve unless you do.”
As I mature in my journey as a Continuous Improvement practitioner, the more difficult it is for me to distinguish CI from self-improvement. An organization is a reflection of it’s leader. Therefore, the organization’s performance improves as the leader’s performance improves. Likewise, when you strip away all the tools and slogans, an organization’s Continuous Improvement journey is literally the leader’s self-improvement journey.An organization's Continuous Improvement journey is literally the leader's self-improvement journey Click To Tweet
Now, with that said, let’s talk about who is the leader. But before we do, watch this video and listen to Michael Jordan talk about the importance of having a vision:
What I find to be profound about MJ’s mindset is how he says that the shared vision of the team winning is what will power them through their challenges, which is awesome and quote-worthy in itself. But that’s not the point I’m making with this part of the article. Notice also that MJ is just one player on the team, which is part of an organization, which is part of a league. He is an individual contributer who has peers, managers, coaches, owners, and all the rest. In a sense, despite his enormous salary, he’s on the bottom of the totem pole. Yet, he has his own definition of greatness fixed in his mind and is on a CI journey – and you’re part of the journey just because you happened to be in proximity. He blames no one around him for the team’s results although that would be the easy thing to do. He only see’s the need for improvement in himself – and he is in relentless pursuit. As a result, he inherently makes everyone around him better. And if you watch him in The Last Dance, you’ll see that he is really great at finding ANY reason to go hard and win the next game; sometimes even completely fabricating situations that he can use to psych himself up to the challenge. As a result, his work has inspired millions, perhaps billions of people, including myself as a teenager growing up in South Chicago during the Bulls’ championship run.
While we as CI practitioners marvel over the beautiful tools, methods, and principles that Toyota is using these days, we should also study the mentality of the leaders. Do they have the fire that MJ talks about in this video? The players are old and tired, they’ve already won championships, its getting harder to work up the motivation to win each time, can they do it again? These are all factors that play into a CI journey as well.
My point is that leadership has less to do with the person with the title but the person willing to take 100% of the responsibility for success or failure of the entire organization. The person who sees their own weaknesses as the first problem to be solved and is willing to change their own behaviors in order to produce better outcomes. The person with a vision and ambition for a better future and the courage to take the actions needed to make it happen. This is the person who will lead the others on a Continuous Improvement journey, even if just for the moment.Leadership has less to do with the person with the title but the person willing to take 100% of the responsibility for success or failure of the entire organization Click To Tweet
In basketball, there are regulations such as salary caps that are intended to level the playing field and keep teams from stacking the deck with superstars. In non-sports business, no such regulations exist. While it can be hard to find and acquire MJ-type talent (even though he was picked 3rd in the 1988 draft), it can be developed internally. And when you can’t go to war with the army you want, you go with the army you have. Or you transform the army you have into the one you want, not by copying some other company’s answers – but by inspiring them to embrace a mindset and behavior pattern of self improvement. As people are creatures of 1) habit and 2) imitation, the best thing you can do to inspire others is lead by example and consider what you can do today, in this very moment, to overcome the next challenge in your own self-improvement journey. At some point, you will find it intolerable that others aren’t putting in the work to improve themselves as well. While we should all play a role in helping to develop others; all we really have control over, is what we do in this very moment. This is all anyone ever actually has control over. That’s right, we’re all standing on the court with the ball and the shot clock is winding down. Although there are no screaming fans, bright lights and cameras surrounding you, this is your moment.
Continuous Improvement means that you and the people around you are using each moment more effectively over time. We must learn to navigate with a compass instead of a map, because the future is not dictated by roadmaps and action plans. As in the fast-paced world of sports, your next moment is largely dictated by how well you handle this one. Winning the championship is a matter of stringing together a series of successful games, which are made up of successful plays, which are made up of successful moments.Most of us can't just throw on a pair of Air Jordans and expect to start winning NBA titles Click To Tweet
As we peel back the onion on why some companies succeed with Lean and others don’t, we get closer and closer to the core. MJ wore great sneakers but most of us can’t just throw on a pair of Air Jordans and expect to start winning NBA titles. Unfortunately this is how Lean and TPS have been sold into many companies. My prediction is that, at the core of the Lean onion, we will discover a powerful engine of self-improvement and self-mastery for both Toyota and Michael Jordan. This burning star of self improvement translates into incredible companies and sports dynasties alike. If you can perceive this, then you can understand why, at ImprUver, we say that Continuous Improvement starts with yoU.