Another Use for Duct Tape

ducttapeHere’s a post inspired by the glut of recent football weekends. Lou Holtz, the legendary college and pro football coach offers the following advice to coaches everywhere:

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

Top managers often lament their employee’s reluctance to embrace change and adopt better ways to work. But, after thirty years of Lean implementations, few executives have genuinely accepted their roles as change leaders. To lead a Lean transformation, there are so many things for top managers to learn – and unlearn – it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps Lou Holtz has the best idea for starting: Stop talking. At first glance, top manager silence may seem a little incongruous, but here’s why it’s a good place to start:

A while back, I toured a local factory with their general manager, Paul. Paul was concerned about lack of employee participation. “Some days,” he said, “it seems like I’m the only one with ideas.” The root cause of the low participation became apparent as we toured the factory. At each department, Paul rushed in and started brainstorming solutions to problems, sometimes talking to me and sometimes to his employees – but always talking. Finally I whispered this suggestion to him: “I’ll have to get out the duct tape if you don’t stop talking.”  Pointing to a problem statement on a huddle board, he exclaimed emphatically, “ But I know how to solve that problem!”

“Perhaps,” I responded, “but if you want your employees to begin thinking that problem solving is a key part of their jobs, then you have to cease being the chief executive problem solver.” It was apparent to me as a visitor that factory employees immediately deferred to Paul, awaiting his strong advice; but he was oblivious. Paul scowled at me in response. After a few minutes of sullen but thoughtful silence, the Paul spoke again. “You know I got to where I am by being a good problem solver. It’s not easy being silent, when I see a solution.”

“I understand,” I said, “that you are good problem solver and an enthusiastic, involved general manager, but how can you transfer that problem solving enthusiasm and skill your employees? Isn’t that the real problem for you to solve?” Paul thought for a moment, and replied, “Maybe I need to talk less and listen more.”

“Do you think you can do that?” I asked, “It won’t be easy,” Paul replied.

How about in your organization?   Do your coaches talk or listen? Please share a thought.


By the way, tomorrow I’m presenting a free webinar about “Pokayoke” (aka Mistake Proofing) at 3:00 PM EST. Join me if you can. Register here.

Take a look at all of our upcoming Events on our website to see what else we’ve got going on. Great Stuff. Hope to see you soon! If you don’t get our weekly event e-bulletins, subscribe on the GBMP home page and then you’ll be the first to know when new events get posted.

Lastly, the video clip above comes from GBMP’s Go See: A Management Primer for Gemba Walks video – one of four in our Management Engagement Series. Learn more about getting your own full copy here.










2 thoughts on “Another Use for Duct Tape

  1. Jason

    This one hits home for me. Thanks Bruce. I aspire to the example of wise senseis who say almost nothing and lead by their silence, but admit I act quite opposite to that when a problem rears its head and the adrenaline kicks in. As the immortal “Tim the Tool Man Taylor said about an over eager Al, “He’s like a belt sander headed for some pine!”

    Two questions come to mind. First, can we assume that asking questions instead of offering solutions is what we mean by the virtue of silence?

    Second, I have heard and read from notable Lean figures that 1) one should not ask a question one already knows the answer to, and 2) one should not allow a worker to make a mistake when a solution is already known. Both of these are forms of disrespect. What are some practical suggestions for engaging with our employees in a way that gets them solving problems, while not patronizing or disrespecting them, or allowing them to generate waste to prove a point?

  2. theratracer

    Great post. Along the same lines of speaking less, and gently leading rather than forging ahead and expecting others to keep up, there is a virtue as well in doing less. If I am employed with a company and do no quality improvement whatsoever, the only cost is what they pay me; but, if I just dive in without thinking or listening and start disrupting work all over the place, the cost could be far greater. Slow, steady, even growth of capability is the way to go.


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