Friday, December 12, 2003

Improvement Fatigue

Is it possible to just plain get tired of continuous improvement?

What is the likelihood of all those Atkins Diet fans going on carbo binges over the next three weeks? How well will they stand up to the relentless barrage of holiday goodies at the office, at parties, at home? How many Cinnamon Strudel Delights can go unsampled? How many Christmas cookies can go unsnitched? Can that one remaining Snickerdoodle on the plate be passed up by the Hi protein guru?

You get the idea...we've all fought fatigue.

Fighting the waste around us is a lot like fighting the waist around us. I let up and back it comes. With far less effort than it took to get rid of it in the first place.

So what is the role of the Lean leader in the workplace to fight this inevitable fatigue? I'm not entirely sure, but here are some thoughts:

  • Accept "fatigue" as a real phenomenon. As I've often mentioned in this blog, the lean process is an intensely human one. And we get tired of it. To deny its reality is silly.
  • Learn to notice the signs of fatigue. Lack of attention. Sloppiness on the edges. Tolerance of non conformances. It is in the "noticing" that one begins to exercise leadership.
  • Talk about the fatigue. Some sentences like this perhaps? "Wow, have we run out of ways to improve?" "Gee, where's the bottleneck? What can we do to improve it?" "It gets frustrating doesn't how do we work through it?"
  • Learn to enjoy the "plateau"In his excellent little book Mastery, George Leonard describes the learning process as brief spurts of improvement followed by much longer "plateaus". It is on these plateaus that we secure the gains made by during the improvement. Yet it does not appear we are making much progress. What is crucial is being able to recognize the difference between a plateau and a full-scale regression.
  • Celebrate. Perhaps if we are fatigued over improvement, we are also fatigued over celebration. So, can I find something to really be excited about? To give out a simple award? To thank sincerely? To write a thank-you note?
  • Review basic goals. Our sugar-laden Atkins friend may need to ask himself "So what was my weight target anyway? Have I weighed in during the past week?"
Hope you don't run out of gas anytime soon. The Lean process is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't ignore the water table along the way...and don't forget to pass the water along to your fellow participants.

I hope this is helpful. And encouraging!Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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