Aug 7, 2015

Lean Reflections is on vacation...

It has been a while since I wrote a post for Lean Directions, but I have not been idle. You can keep up with my thoughts every three weeks on the Gray Blog. Be sure to check out the articles from my co-bloggers while you're there...



Aug 11, 2014

Leadership style and neural networks - Part 3

A three-blog collaboration continues as Jeff Hajek hosts part 3 of our series on brain research and leadership style choices on his Gotta Go Lean blog. Co-blogging with Matt and Jeff has been rewarding because of the reviewing process before publication and our discussions on the possibilities of team blogging with a number of our colleagues. We didn't identify the way to make a true lean team blog, but worked through a lot of thought-provoking possibilities.

Jul 15, 2014

Leadership style and neural networks - part 2

Matt Wrye is hosting Part two of our neuro-leadership series on his blog, Beyond Lean. Thanks for sharing it with your readers, Matt. And if you don't know Matt or his blog, you are in for a treat.

Jun 24, 2014

Leadership style and neural networks - Part 1

You’re probably familiar with the two leadership styles: task/objective-oriented leadership, sometimes called Theory X, or human/emotional-oriented, Theory Y. The American MBO model with its financial and quantitative goals leaves out the human dimension. People-oriented leadership, as exemplified by Toyota, can get better business results.

Task oriented and human oriented domains in the brain

Researchers have now found two largely independent neural networks associated with these leadership styles, according to a recently published paper* by Richard Boyatzis, Anthony Jack, and Kylie Rochford of Case Western Reserve University. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been used to observe the workings of the two networks as subjects in an experiment engaged in leadership simulations., however they did find an objective-oriented neural net, called the task positive network, or TPN, and a social domain, called the default mode network, DMN (it was first believed to be the brain’s default state). They found that there is no “leadership” center in the brain. Each network integrates several different regions of the brain.

What’s interesting about these findings is that each network actually suppresses the other when it is in use. Practice -- repeated firing of neurons over time -- makes a neural network stronger. The objective-focused leader is making the TPN stronger by using it more often, so the weaker DMN activates thinking about people less often. On the other hand, the people-oriented leader with a dominant DMN network may not do as well with TPN-oriented pursuits of quantitative goals or deadlines.

Does this mean that the management-by-numbers leader can’t be a lean leader with active respect for people? The good news is that the brain naturally cycles between the two domains, so nobody’s brain is in either mode permanently. Whether instinctively or with practice, the leader can activate the DMN in a situation related to people, and the TPN in problem solving or analytical tasks.

Some comments by lean leaders who previewed this blog post:

Matt Wrye: I find this to be fascinating and enriching as I reflect on my actions as a lean leader.  I have never consciously thought about the two types of leadership. It helps me put into perspective situations where I have used TPN or DMN.
Analyzing data to understand value stream flows within a manufacturing facility or planning a week long improvement event are ways I have used TPN.  Then I have to turn around and use DMN to help others understand the value stream flows I have discovered or to get others in the improvement event to not fear sharing and implementing their ideas.

Chris Paulsen:  This is a very interesting revelation.  We have all seen that some leaders have a natural bent towards connecting on a personal level while others are more task oriented.  The best leaders are able to find the right balance for their leadership role.  The great news is that we naturally cycle between the domains of our brain.  This may explain how leaders are able to find a better balance with practice. 

I'll be co-blogging this three-part article with Matt Wrye, of Beyond Lean, and Jeff Hajek, of Gotta Go Lean.

For more reading:

* Richard Boyatzis, professor of organizational behavior, Anthony Jack, assistant professor of cognitive science, and Kylie Rochford, a PhD student in organizational behavior, all at Case Western Reserve University, “Antagonistic neural networks underlying differentiated leadership roles.” Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, March 4, 2014.

An easier-to-read press release regarding the paper: Case Western Reserve University, “Leaders wired to be task-focused or team-builders, but can be both.” Science Daily, March 24, 2014.

Apr 7, 2014

Bad employees

As I discussed in my last post, the article, “Bad to great: The path to scaling up excellence” in the McKinsey Quarterly evoked my ire. In it, the authors discussed how to identify “bad employees” and get rid of them -- the old “bad apple” theory.

Let’s look more closely at the destructive behavior the authors illustrated...

Tardy, unhelpful, discourteous salespeople irritate all of us. But how does the company’s culture shape that behavior? Are managers late for meetings or prone to canceling them? Do they help frontline salespeople who should help customers? Do they show a lack of respect for salespeople? Are the employees overworked and underpaid, and under stress to perform well anyway? Or what is it about the hiring process that it can’t identify people who are not customer-oriented?

A nasty nurse is no asset to the hospital floor. But nurses in a typical hospital are not happy, for a number of reasons. They want to devote their time to caring for patients. Hospitals, however, have inefficient processes that waste their time. Nurses don’t want to search for supplies and equipment, wait excessive amounts of time for the doctor or supplies to show up, or rush because shifts are understaffed. And they’re understaffed because unhappy frontline nurses find other jobs as soon as they can.

What made the nurse in the story snap at the doctor? A lack of respect for authority?
But doctors often act superior or arrogant. They fail to recognize that nurses are professionals too, usually with college degrees and years of direct patient care experience. The doctors have no monopoly on knowledge. They have no justification for commanding a routine blood draw. Who among us in an understaffed and disorganized workplace would not be out of patience? “Do it yourself” might be mild in comparison to what we would really want to say.

In the case of the thieving employees, supposedly, they were stealing for the thrill of it and status in the shop floor “gang.” When the company spoiled the game by letting employees check out equipment for personal use, theft dropped. But maybe the reason theft slowed was not taking out the fun. It would depend on the perception of how management made the change. Was it that they outwitted bad employees? Or did management actually respect employees and trust them to return what they borrowed? If sincere, such a change, especially when accompanied by similar ones, could have simply reduced hostility.

The authors include fear as a reason for expulsion of potentially disruptive employees. But Dr. Deming said, “drive out fear,” and he didn’t mean to drive out employees who are afraid. Fear is not the fault of employees, and getting rid of them won’t get rid of fear.

Later in the article, as I said, the authors come up with some more useful advice. A culture that welcomes admitting mistakes so root causes can be found gets better performance. They also advise, “Employees work harder and more loyally if you explain your actions, talk about how changes will unfold, and treat people with dignity.” Management can foster feelings like fear and powerlessness or they can show respect.

What management behaviors create beliefs that are part of the employee subculture? What emotions are connected to those beliefs, and what employee behavior does that drive? If behavior and feelings are the result of a belief that so-called leaders are selfish, dishonest, nasty, and dictatorial, who needs to change their ways first, employees or management?

Mar 30, 2014

McKinsey proves that today's management culture has a long way to go

The first issue of the McKinsey Quarterly for 2014 was entitled, “Shaping the future of manufacturing.” Proof that management culture, however, is still rooted in the past, is made plain in the article “Bad to great: The path to scaling up excellence.” Not every article in this issue is backward: several are worth reading. But if this one got past the editor, McKinsey has problems.

In “Bad to great,” the authors ask what to do with problem employees. Who are bad employees?

·      Employees engaging in “destructive behavior -- selfishness, nastiness, fear, laziness, or dishonesty.”

·      Salespeople who are “tardy, unhelpful, uncooperative, discourteous to customers, or unproductive.”

·      Hourly workers like those who stole equipment worth a total of a million dollars every year from their employer.

·      Subordinates like the nurse who, when the doctor said, ‘Nurse, draw this man’s blood,’ she replied, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’”

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
In a culture where management labels people "bad" without understanding why they behave as they do, improvement will never stick. It’s true that a few employees will resist change or engage in disruptive behavior. Some can be persuaded to at least give change a chance, and some will eventually be helped to find jobs elsewhere. They’re not bad people. They just can’t adopt the rules of a changed workplace culture.

This article’s authors are from Stanford: Huggy Rao is a professor of organizational behavior and human resources and Robert Sutton is a professor in management science and engineering. Their book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less, has been excerpted for the article. Maybe the excerpt is not representative of the whole book. To be fair, later in the excerpt, they do come up with some alternatives to firing “bad” people.

What bothers me is not that someone has written a wrongheaded article. It is that a consulting firm influencing the largest, most powerful, companies believes an article like this reflects “shaping the future of manufacturing.” If this is a product of McKinsey’s culture, even if some of its consultants understand lean at its best, lean thinking faces worse barriers than I realized. And if this represents the current thinking at Stanford, we are making little progress. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed.

Mar 19, 2014

When management doesn't get it

Our last post identified a divide in a corporate culture between management and operational subcultures. I think that the failure to understand the importance of cultural differences is one of the reasons why lean initiatives fail. When lean champions come from operations and engineering, they have different criteria for success than executives do.

We have also talked about seven principles of change* identified by anthropologists that help explain cross-cultural change.

1. Consider your own psychology. Do you believe you have the only right way of seeing things? Is your attitude showing that you think management's beliefs are wrong? Or are they doing things right in the context of a different culture?

2. Beliefs direct behavior. In management's world, people need numbers and reports. Revenue, cost, profit, and growth. They feel no need to see your plant, value stream map, or throughput times.

3. Change must be seen from the point of view of those being asked to change. If the numbers look good, not only will they be rewarded financially, they will also bask in approval and admiration. Managers down the line get promoted. If the CEO gets raked over the coals when business is slipping, blame will be passed down to every level of the organization. If you want to change the way management believes things should be done, they can’t be sure what will happen to the numbers. When you start talking about members of management devoting time to learning and coming to the gemba, there’s nothing to motivate them.

4. Make no sweeping changes. Introducing a grand system of change can just be too much. This presents a dilemma for introducing change to top management because we know they need to grasp the nature of lean thinking as a system. That’s why pilot projects are such a good way to start.

5. A significant change produces emotional tension. Are traditional company leaders heartless, unemotional, inconsiderate people? They may have to present themselves that way to gain and maintain status in a by-the-numbers business culture. Any change will produces fears, uncertainty, and threats to self-esteem.

6. Change often produces stress and frustration. If managers secretly worry that they can’t succeed in a lean culture, what will they do? Even if it’s only unconsciously, they may obstruct progress. Behind-the-scenes coaching can help. And develop empathy.

7. Harm to people. Persistent and intense stress threatens physical or emotional health, heightening pressure to prevent change. Some people are more vulnerable than they seem, making it important for lean champions to consider emotions as well as the intellect.

Putting yourself in a manager's shoes is easier if you read management books and magazines, as well observe behavior. You can learn more about your industry. To get management's attention, you also need to understanding the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the management culture in your company. If your changes help managers look good and get beat up less often, they will feel safer and put up less resistance.

But first, show them the money.


*Seven principles of cultural change

Principles one and two
Principle three
Principle four
Principles five, six, and seven

Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm