At Quality Consultants we are in a never-ending search for the business characteristics that lead to success or failure in lean implementations. One such characteristic is “the maturity of the business.”* We have found that businesses that score high on maturity are normally successful, while those that score low almost always fail.
By maturity I do not mean chronological age. Rather, does it act in a manner we would hope would be typical of our image of mature adults?
An immature company is an interesting concept. It might even sound disrespectful to speak of an immature company. But before you get too judgmental, let’s examine how I define maturity.
As a parent, dealing with immaturity is part of the package. I have a teenage son and after raising three others, it is a little easier this time as I deal with his level of maturity. I know what to expect and that helps immensely.
In some circumstances he acts like a mature 30 year old and amazes me with his observations, insights and behaviors. He can be more “adult” than the adults he is around. On other occasions he has the maturity of a 6 year old. In addition, he can exhibit almost any level of maturity between these two extremes, and does.
When it comes to maturity level, I know what to expect from my teenage son…and that is almost anything.
When he is in “6-year-old” mode, he lives in a black-and-white world where he either hates things or he loves things. For example, we might talk about welfare reform, and he might say, “If they don’t appreciate it, just take it away.” Life is pretty simple in “6-year-old” mode.
While in “6-year-old” mode, he has no understanding as to how his school pants ended up on the bathroom floor; he swears he hung them up. “I’m positive Dad,” he says, with more black-and-white certainty.
While in “6-year-old” mode, he has time to watch TV, construct an entire village on Minecraft and text his friends, before he has done his homework. When you ask about his homework, he says, “No problem. I have just a little.” You then ask the follow-up question: “Exactly how much homework do you have?” The answer of “a two-page essay in English, reading 30 pages in religion and two sections of geometry” gives you the specifics you need. Recognizing this as more than “just a little,” you do your parenting work and adjust his priorities on what needs to be done first.
What does maturity look like?
- When my son is behaving in a mature fashion, he sees the world as it is, with not only good and bad but shades of gray as well. He has some balance.
- When his Mom finds his pants on the floor and mentions it to him, he picks them up. He accepts the responsibility for things he can and should control.
- When he has both work and play to accomplish, he evaluates both, makes reasonable time estimates and then acts accordingly. He deals with the reality of the situation.
- Finally, when he has both work and play to accomplish, he schedules the work before the play. He has learned the benefits of delayed gratification and the false and fleeting feelings of instant gratification.
The Four Elements of Maturity
- Acceptance of responsibility
- Acceptance of reality
- Avoidance of instant gratification
How does your company measure up?
Is it balanced? For example, does management have a “balanced scorecard” as they measure the company success -- and your success? Do they measure not only bottom-line financials but also give equal attention to safety, quality, delivery and morale?
If all they really pay attention to are the bottom-line financials, then they are not balanced.
Also, do they have a balanced approach to all the constituencies that make up the business? Do they give equal attention to the employees, customers and stockholders? Or is their only interest the monthly dividend?
Does management have a healthy acceptance of responsibility? Or when a customer return comes back, is the finger pointed at the “crazy customer” with the unrealistic demands? When something goes wrong with the process, does management accept that this is “their process,” or do they look for the nearest scapegoat to blame? Are the problems accepted as “system problems” requiring the attention of management, or is the mantra, “This used to work, now why can’t these morons just make sure we only ship the good stuff?”?
Do company leaders have a healthy acceptance of reality? When profits wane and customers migrate to different suppliers, does management blame the economy, new government regulations and other things “out there”? Or do they see the changes that are occurring in the world and adapt the business to stay competitive? Do they continually study and learn about how to become the supplier of choice by ever-improving the quality, delivery and cost of your products? Are they fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their competition and dispassionately evaluate their strengths and weaknesses? Do they get involved in associations and outside groups to stay abreast of the rapidly changing world, or do they yearn for the good old days? Exactly how insular are they?
When they ask for the status on any topic and they get an “it’s going just fine,” how often do they ask the clarifying questions of “How do you know?” and “What data support that?” Does it appear that they really want to uncover the problems? Or would they rather not have to deal with them? Do they send a message of “I want only good news”? Do they metaphorically behead the messengers who bring bad news? Are they willing to let others experiment, knowing this can lead to setbacks and failed experiments? Or do they deride any negative information, even if a lot was learned that will be a benefit in the long run?
The 'Instant Gratification' Thing
How good are they on this “instant gratification” thing? How much of management’s attention is focused on the short-term benefits at the expense of long-term benefits? Is employee training a priority? Are there meaningful personnel-development plans in place? Is there succession planning that is real and practiced? Does your company have a long-term-planning process for personnel development? Are the operations and financial questions they have for you focused on the long term, or are you overwrought with inquiries as to why the monthly and quarterly targets are not met … even if that means there is a long term benefit to be gained. Are they always asking questions about the cost and not too interested in the benefits? Do they have a long-term vision that is posted? Do they preach, teach and “live” the long-term vision?
My questions for you are threefold:
- Do you know what to expect from your company?
- Is it mature by all four measures, or does it fall short in some aspects?
If the answers to questions 1 and 2 are all positive, count your blessings. You have found a great place, presuming the work feeds your calling and your passion. However, if you find a bunch of inadequacies in the maturity of your company, then there is work to do.
For any given question or issue stated in the previous paragraphs, there is a ready-made solution. Whether it is creating a balanced scoreboard, giving proper attention to your customers, coming up with long-range personnel planning, implementing systems planning or even more esoteric issues such as goal deployment or teaching Theory X vs. Theory Y management, there is a known solution.
When we do not solve these problems, it is not because we lack the information or proven solutions. In nearly all cases, for whatever issue we wish to discuss, we typically lack:
- the will to recognize the issue and/or
- the will to accept the issue and/or
- the will to supply the hard work required to resolve the issue.
If these problems exist and persist, it is more a matter of WILL than a matter of SKILL.
So, my third and final question is:
3. What are you prepared to do?
How to Respond: Don't be a Hole Person
Let me presume you are not the CEO but someone in the trenches. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is based on a mature approach.
First, carefully, critically and dispassionately evaluate just how big and how many of these are problems. Likewise, do not ignore the many assets you have. Many of us, due to the very nature of our business, can become “hole people.” That is, always finding the “hole,” the things that are missing and ignoring the “donut,” the many things with which we are blessed. Be balanced in your analysis and in your efforts.
Second, if you find something that truly detracts from your company’s ability to execute its mission, find a welcome ear of someone who can do something. Initiate action. Don’t wallow in your misery at the coffee pot; be responsible. Responsibility is “the ability to respond.” Do something.
Third, don’t search for something that does not fit with the company mission. If you are a manufacturing company and your plant works 24/7, don’t expect a life of no overtime…or completely uninterrupted weekends…that’s not real in a living-breathing manufacturing plant. Be realistic.
Fourth, don’t expect everything to get fixed today. Progress is a reasonable expectation. Instant change is usually unreasonable. If you carefully and critically evaluated an issue before you acted to change it, then it is very likely you can see, measure and assess any changes that occur. These issues often are deeply embedded in the business culture, and they do not change quickly -- don’t expect that. On the other hand, they can change in the fullness of time, and very likely many of them can get better -- expect that. Continual progress over the long term is the goal.
I like to say, “At the end of the day there are choices and there are consequences.”
Eldridge Clever said, “You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.”
It’s your choice.
*Note: *I owe a debt to M. Scott Peck for a similar concept he cultivated in his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” where he used the term “discipline” and applied it to individuals.
Lonnie Wilson has been teaching and implementing lean and other culture-changing techniques for more than 40 years. His book, “How To Implement Lean Manufacturing” was released in August 2009. His new book on “How to Lead and Manage a Lean Facility” is under construction. Wilson is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. In addition to IndustryWeek, he has published articles in Quality Digest and is a frequent contributor to iSixSigma magazine. His manufacturing experience spans 20 years with Chevron, where he held a number of management positions. In 1990 he founded Quality Consultants, www.qc-ep.com, which teaches and applies lean and other culture-changing techniques to small entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 firms, principally in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In particular, he specializes in “lean revitalizations,” assisting firms that have failed or failing lean implementations and want to”do it right.” In his not-so-spare time, Wilson is the men’s varsity soccer coach at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas. You can e-mail Lonnie Wilson at [email protected]