KAIZEN is a culture, not one time activity – Part II of II

BY DAVID MANN - 2016-04-22

How to Change Your Culture

We usually refer to changing habits with the word “break,” as in “That’s a hard habit to break.” Similarly, many talk about “kicking” habits. In each case, these words imply that changing habits is a one-time thing, a discontinuous step change from one state to another, which once accomplished is an event that is
over and done with, and no going back.

Many habits that come to mind are personal and physical in nature: smoking, nail biting, various forms of fidgeting—jingling pocket change, fiddling with an ID badge, a pen, or glasses, etc. At some level, each habit provides a form of comfort. We tend not to think of our work habits in these terms because many of them are part of the particular culture at work, and that is effectively invisible. Nevertheless, these habits arise because they bring a form of comfort, too. In a conversion to lean production, some of these habits will be a hindrance, and some will be a help.

Consider these examples of management habits in conventional mass production operations—some of them are things you want to stop doing under lean management:

• Keep a quantity of extra material stashed away at all times; you might need it.
• Take time to listen to what people want to tell you.
• Always maintain a minimum 10 percent surplus labor and plenty of WIP; something could go wrong.
• Speak to everybody in the department every day.
• Jump onto the line or expedite parts when things slow down, or throw in more people; meet the schedule!
• Always reorder more than the actual need when handling shortages, just to be sure you get enough.
• Use an informal gauge of queue size; always keep the line full in case something goes flooey.
• Approach people who are standing idle and ask them to get back to work.

You can think of many more once you start to see work habits and practices as something you do without thinking about it. There is nothing wrong with habits as such. We need them to make the workday more efficient. What is important to remember is this: work-related habits are just as difficult to change as personal habits!

Extinguishing Versus Breaking Habits

It is helpful to think in terms of the technical language from behavioral science used in connection with changing habits. The term is not “break.” Instead, psychologists use the term “extinguish” when talking about changing habits. Extinguish implies a process, something that occurs gradually over time rather than an event producing a suddenly changed state. Because of that, extinguish also implies a change that can be reversed under certain conditions. Think of Smokey the Bear’s rules: Douse a campfire with water, stir the coals and turn them over, then douse again. If you do not follow these rules you run the risk that the fire can rekindle itself from the live embers you failed to extinguish.

So it is with habits. They linger, waiting for the right conditions to assert themselves again. We have seen this kind of thing just days following implementation of new lean layouts. Here are some actual examples of old habits reasserting themselves in areas newly converted to lean layouts—again, examples you want to avoid:

  • Build up some inventory;
  • Allow longer or extra breaks;
  • Send people off a balanced line to chase parts or do rework;
  • Work around the problem today and let tomorrow take care of itself;
  • Leave improvement to “the experts” rather than wasting time on employee suggestions;
  • Do not bother with the tracking charts—we never actually do anything about recurring problems anyway.

Make sure you don’t slip back into these old habits! To sum it up, you do not need a different management system for lean because it is so complex compared to what you have done before. You need it because lean is so different from what you have done before. Many of the habits in your organization, as well as your own, are likely to be incompatible with an effectively functioning lean production environment. You have a conventional mass production management system and culture. You need a lean management system and culture. The next chapter shows how to go about making that change.

Acknowledgement: Book-Creating a lean culture by David Mann

Gemba Kaizen