I have mentioned in earlier posts how remarkable it is that themes for this blog seem to pop up during one-to-one mentoring sessions with the members of my Vistage group, and then continue with other members for days afterwards. Not too surprising, I suspect, as once the thought is implanted, the conversations can trend accordingly.
This week a member, who runs a consultancy practice, remarked how the people in one of his clients (in social housing), had taken enthusiastically to the process of "lean thinking" in which they had had comprehensive training recently. However, the process seemed to have taken over from common sense.
In one case, a member of staff has suggested that one-to-one meetings, manager and staff member, were not "lean" and it is better to have a team meeting instead. This does not take into account the subject of the meeting or indeed the desired outcome. It merely says that it more "efficient" to see several people at once rather than one at a time.
It's a classic case of a desire for efficiency over the real need for enhanced effectiveness. We hear all the time of the need not just to cut expenditure in the public sector, but to achieve it through "efficiencies". On the face of it there is some sense in suggesting that merely firing people is an easy way out, if not for the victims, whereas thee are many a varied ways to reduce expenditure and maintain the effectiveness of the organisation. This does, of course, need some thought and is not usually politically acceptable to some.
The fashionable business and industrial processes of which lean thinking is a prime example mostly originated in the automotive industry where the relentless pursuit of waste, of either time or movement or both, leads to enhanced efficiency and better productivity. Eminently sensible, but the automotive industry is highly automated and modifying the process on a kai-zen, or incremental, basis can lead to significant improvements.
Strangely, people are not automated systems so the outcome of a relentless drive for efficiency over effectiveness will only result in a crazy world where slavish adherence to the process, as such, overrides common sense.
In previous posts I have emphasised the need to involve the people in the business in the running of the business; this needs a drive for effectiveness of thinking, of decision making and of action.
Systems and processes should be looked upon as important management tools, means to an end, and certainly not as the end themselves.
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