Tag Archives: problem solving culture

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.










The Road To Lean

road to leanAn old TV series I watched recently reminded me of an experience I have had many times in my work. In this I Love Lucy episode, Lucy is ordered by Ricky to create a schedule to make her “more efficient.” A schedule board, posted in their home is a “best practice”, but without the best intent. The onus is on Lucy; the schedule is to keep her “accountable.” Ricky’s job is to watch the schedule for “adherence.”

Those words, accountability and adherence, I hear frequently. When problems occur, too often the accountability rests with the employee.   The “tools” are put in place to force “adherence.” The manager’s role is to “audit” – usually not the process but the employee. Kinder words may be spoken when these ‘best practices’ are described to customer tours, but on a daily basis, these practices are implicitly taken by managers to be countermeasures to presumed employee foul-ups, much like Lucy’s Schedule.

“Aren’t we supposed to be auditing?” a manager asked. “How can we ever sustain our improvement without adherence?” There’s another word I hear a lot: sustain.

“Are you checking up on the system that your employees labor in,” I inquired, “a system that you created, or are you checking up on your employees?”

‘”Well — both, I guess,” she replied.

I offered my opinion: “If your employees feel you are checking up on them, they’ll do one of three things: fight you (like Lucy did to Ricky), fool you (pretend to participate) or capitulate (follow mindlessly.)”

Even the idea of “sustaining” bears negative connotations: a hidden intent to police employees to maintain, not improve. This is not the right intent. Regardless of the particular best practice we choose to implement, be it huddle boards, schedule boards, workplace organization, set-up reduction, mistake-proofing – you name it; if its intent is not to help employees, to remove their struggles and make it easier for them to continuously improve their processes, then it is worse than uninspiring. Small wonder this approach does not “sustain.”

The moral of this story: When the road to Lean is paved with the wrong intentions, it is destined to hit a dead end.


BTW: My next FREE webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, entitled “The Deep Dive”, offers an antidote the condition described above (click to read more and pre-register). Better hurry – the webinar is next Tuesday, April 8 from 3:00-4:00 p.m.

And – I’ll be teaching the Shingo Discover Course, May 5-6, at the Shingo Prize Conference in Sandusky, Ohio. Hope to see you there.