2009-12-29

Lean leadership

How do managers lead at Toyota? When we (two groups of doctors and managers from the St. Elisabeth Hospital) were trained in the Toyota Training Centre in the Netherlands it became clear that Toyota has a very different leadership style then what we are used to. For example, progress is reported with three symbols:
  • A circle: progress is good
  • A triangle: progress is problematic, but I'm working on it
  • A cross: I don't know what to do, help!
At first, it felt similar to the traffic light symbols we see often in dashboards in Dutch hospitals, usually based on system measurements: green is above the norm, orange is below the norm, but within a close margin, red is too far below the norm. The three symbols of Toyota however are a personal reflection: that is how I think progress is. Furthermore, they are about 'progress', not status.

In the Dutch culture (Western culture?) I'm used to it that management wants to see as much green as possible. The more green, the better. Reporting on orange or red is something to be avoided. You try to solve your problems before you need to report them. When this does not work, the temptation is strong to influence the numbers to reach the green levels. People get a compliment for green. Conversations become difficult when there's orange and red to talk about.

Learning from problems
At Toyota the circles are pushed aside. They are not interesting. The triangles, they are interesting. How are problems dealt with? How are they analyzed? How are countermeasures searched for and how are they being tested? How does the team learn? The manager coaches on the application of the methods and principles when dealing with problems. Do they go to the source? Are tests fully evaluated?

Their approach is that someone who reports a lot of green does not stretch the boundaries, he does not learn much. The do not give compliments for green, but for the learning process at orange. But what if you are very effective and your results are simply good? If a process is stable (green), a manager at Toyota might take away either ten percent of the time that is spent on the process or ten percent of the throughput time. This will make the process unstable (orange). Then the operational manager coaches the team to stabilize the process again (green). The manager of the operational manager coaches him or her on that learning process. There lies the essence of quality thinking at Toyota. It can always be just a little bit better tomorrow.

Their philosophy is: be hard on the process en soft on the people. This works with very short cycles. Coaching happens on a weekly or even daily basis. Crosses are almost never reported before a triangle has been reported before. Upper management is already involved in solving problems when they are small. Surprises are rare.

Another difference: they coach on the shop floor. By visualizing their processes, the problems and the countermeasures as they occur (for example with colors and improvement boards) they directly see the triangles in the processes. That enables them to coach from a deep understanding of the situation en conclusions can be applied directly.

To enforce the methods and principles of lean thinking, we will also need to address the way we lead and the way we develop leadership in healthcare.

Can you relate to this?

1 opmerking:

Dong Henze zei

I totally agree with your last paragraph here. The leadership approach of Toyota is very different from the healthcare industry, therefore, for you to have a clear view of how lean approach will apply in healthcare, you must think the way Toyota did but in connection to healthcare. This is an interesting article! Good work! ->Dong Henze