Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Engine and The Gas, Part 2

I wrote a couple days ago on the difference between the engine of a lean operation (the observable tools) and the fuel or gas of a lean operation (how the people relate, how the culture performs).
This morning, I had a chance to use this illustration with some associates.  The learning was useful to me.
The context was an awkward personnel issue in a process-oriented work group.  I needed to listen carefully to some associates with concerns. 
As I listened, the folks were polite and respectful about the people issues.  They also had a fair degree of angst about the actual and potential degradation of process performance and accuracy.  Both sets of concerns were legitimate and sincere.  Yet, as I listened and asked questions, the two were also tightly intertwined.  In most efforts towards driving out waste, I typically turn to the process issues first.  "Whoa, if we mess up that particular standard work, we're all in trouble!"  And we'd go to work on the process. 
Yet it didn't seem right in this context. 
So I tried the distinction between the engine and the gas.  I asked the team to separate the human and the process issues.  I used hand motions as a visual tool to "set aside" the process issues for a moment (stating I'd come back to them) and explored the human issues.  Fascinatingly, the shoulders of the associates relaxed, tension on their faces eased and we spoke compassionately and openly about the human issues, our own foibles included.  I tried to reinforce the quality of character of each of them and the rest of our team and our common goal of a humane workplace doing excellent work.  I stated some organizational values in this regard, with which they agreed. 
Only after this did I touch on the process issues and then only lightly.  I affirmed to them that they knew the process details way better than I did and I encouraged them to simply use the process improvement tools they already had to deal with their concerns.  It seemed to connect. 
Using process tools to fix a human problem is like bringing a box-end wrench to a counseling session. 
Understand the Gas.  Understand the Engine. 

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