The Think System

9A MOVIES08 For the few who haven’t seen it, The Music Man is a classic musical comedy from back in the 60’s. “Masquerading as a traveling band instructor, Professor Hill plans to con the citizens of River City into paying him to create a boys' marching band, including instruments, uniforms, and music instruction. Once he has collected the money and the instruments and uniforms have arrived, he will hop the next train out of town, leaving them without their money or a band.”

The con artist, Harold Hill, doesn’t know how to read a single note of music, but he avoids it by advocating what he calls the “Think System”.

MARIAN (talking about her young nephew) “But he never touches the Cornet.”

HAROLD “Well, you see –

MARIAN “He says you told him it wasn’t necessary.”

HAROLD “Well.”

MARIAN “He tells me about some ‘Think System.’ If he thinks the Minuet in G, he won't have to bother with the notes. Now Professor –

HAROLD “Miss Marian. The Think System is a revolutionary method, I'll admit. So was Galileo's conception of the Heavens, Columbus' conception of the egg - ah - globe, Bach's conception of the Well-Tempered Clavichord. Hmm? Now I cannot discuss these things here in public. But if you'll allow me to call –

I am struck by the parallels every time I read high fallutin’ business wisdom pieces like “Sustainable Business Initiatives Will Fail Unless Leaders Change Their Mindset.” The title says it all – sustaining change simply requires a different mindset – The Think System all over again.

A pretty well published lean guy recently came out and as much said it at a major lean event when asked about the difference between Toyota's management practices and the rest – the best answer he could come up with was that Toyota leaders think differently.

Of course leaders have to think differently – not only to sustain change but to initiate it in the first place, but there is more to it than thinking – a whole lot more to do with it. To quote an even better source from the opposite end of the ethical spectrum than the Music Man, as Saint James wrote in the Bible, “Faith without works is dead. What does it profit, my brothers, for a man to say he has faith but does not have works?” It profits no one, in fact, to think about something and believe in something, but to do nothing of substance for it.

Put in even simpler terms, talk is cheap. What leaders think, believe and say counts for little. What they do is the key. You have to wonder how these folks can be so oblivious to the impact of performance metrics and the numbers used to make decisions – especially the ones that flow from the accounting system.

The logic is real simple: The way things are is the way you measure and reward people for making them. If people do a good job of keeping headcount down and standard costs low, but a lousy job of delivering on time, assuring quality or involving front line folks in any improvement effort, that is because you measure people and make decisions more on their impact on labor and standard costs than on those other things. Odds are the senior execs spend more of their time looking at labor efficiency and standard cost based information than on the results of delivery, quality and employee engagement.

Change means making things other than the way they currently are. If you want things to be different from the way they are, then you have to change what you measure and reward people for, and the basis for making decisions. It’s not complicated, really.

On the other hand, wanting to change the business, and thinking about the change, and talking about the change, and believing in the change … but continuing to measure people and make decisions based on the things that drove the business to be the way it always has been is silly.

Wondering why people didn’t sustain the change – why they behaved in exactly the way you measured and rewarded them to behave, instead of how you were thinking they should behave – is even sillier.

People won’t act the way the CEO thinks they should act any more than they can play the Minuet in G just by thinking about it. In both cases, after the thinking starts there is real work to be done.

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