“Advice untethered from a strategy for implementing it is feckless, merely annoying. It doesn't do any good.”
That from an article in the Wall Street Journal that has nothing whatever to do with lean, or even business, but an enjoyable article nonetheless. It says a mouthful, to be sure, and it really gets at the heart of the leadership challenge in a lean transformation – or a transformation of any kind.
It gets at the ‘leap of faith’ nonsense, which is usually what someone suggests you do when they have no idea what the specific implementation strategy should be for getting from where you are now to the grand vision so eloquently described in “The Toyota Way” or any of the other groundbreaking books on lean principles. They are not implementation guides, so without such a guide the implied strategy is really no strategy – the ‘Think System’ from the Music Man – merely think like a Toyota leader and your entire organization will somehow (presumably through some sort of osmosis) become like Toyota. The leader who simply drops the principles of lean on the organization without an implementation strategy is, as the quote says, “merely annoying”; and certainly not doing any good for the organization.
Of course the other pitfall are the Silly Strategies for implementing the advice in the philosophy books – the 5S centered gang – ‘just go straighten up the joint and you’ll be well down the path to lean’; or the ‘kaizen event your way to excellence’ crowd where it’s business as usual for three weeks of the month with overpaid consultants coming in on the fourth week leading an exercise that will somehow undo all of the bad stuff people did for the three weeks – and will go back to doing when the consultants leave; or the JIT –just shove the inventory back on the suppliers – advocates. The common trait is that the implementation strategy is easy or can be had for the price of a consultant’s tab.
But often the lack of an implementation strategy is one of the leader’s own making. The heart of the ‘implementation’ (not really a good term for what must happen) is learning – the leader learning a whole new way of thinking, everyone learning a whole new way of understanding the business, people learning new values and new ways of working with each other. In fact, for the most part, the ‘doing’ will pretty much naturally follow the learning.
Imagine a young person wanting advice as to how to be a doctor. The advice is to go to med school and learn medicine – but the kid is skeptical of what there is to learn and why it takes so long, so he spurns the advice and demands to know what to do – not learn. He wants to do doctor things – now – or at least have a series of actions that will clearly and logically result in being a doctor – hard to come up with when there is so much the kid doesn’t know … and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.
I hear that often – “Tell me what it is they are going to teach me?” If I could tell you that in an elevator speech I guess there would be no need for you to go to school would there? The implementation strategy never comes to life because the leader is unwilling to spend the necessary time learning to put together a viable strategy.
Regardless, more time should be spent on the implementation strategy – the transformation strategy, really, by we’ll stick with the words from the quote. Leaders have t spend more time learning – at least enough to contribute to the development of the strategy and certainly enough to challenge the strategy to make sure all of the dots are connected and that it makes sense.
And those advocating the strategy, be they consultants or in-house advocates – should be prepared to defend the strategy; to make sure there are no steps that fall under the ‘leap of faith’ heading. To do otherwise – to advise the leader to transform the company without providing a strategy – is feckless and annoying. And it certainly won’t do any good.