On these days I read on the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) page that a helpful coach is a humble coach. The LEI faculty member and author David Verbie, in one of their most popular videos, explains why with examples of how to use “humble inquiry.” You can have all the knowledge of the world but if you are not humble when you ask and show with actions respect for the people; the message will not get through. This reading makes me remember about this anecdote.
We were taking our first baby steps with Lean when this new guy joins the company to work as director of the finance department. His first week, we did a physical inventory and he was right there with his team observing how the employees performed the inventory. At first, I thought, good! he went to gemba to see! Then I heard comments from the employees regarding how he was asking them a lot of whys and hows on a way that they felt either intimidated or that he was questioning their skills or their desire to do a good job. I was very upset, don’t ever go to the work area and make questions on a way that could offend the employees.
About a week after the inventory, this person was ready to propose changes to the inventory procedure. He was talking about having a meeting with the employees but before it happens the accounting manager gave us a heads up and we ask for a meeting with the managers first. We could not afford the risk to have this guy yelling and demeaning our employees anymore, we need to check on him. I went to the meeting positive, thinking that probably everything was just a misunderstanding.
The meeting started and after the introduction, the new director spend thirty minutes talking about himself! I thought that it was ok, he just wanted us to know about him. Once again, I was wrong! When the inventory stock supervisor started to present the results of the inventory he was interrupting all the time to talk about his observations. Every time he did it, he questioned our procedures, supervisory methods, and our performance indicators. The problem was the way he questioned everything, I felt he was attacking us. After all the hard work to create an improvement culture, all the training hours and everything we have done to gain our employees’ trust and this guy comes with this attitude! He started to ask me about our kaizen events and if I knew some concepts like OEE, kanban, and others. He was arrogant, believing he was a sensei but he was wrong! No doubt he knew, but none of us never listened to one word of what he said from the minute he started his attacks.
During my Lean journey, this is the only person that I found with that attitude so far. As managers and lean practitioners, we need to coach or mentor our people. We need to ask why every day but we shall use the humble inquiry. I believed so much on this philosophy that I made it part of my life; when I read the book Lean Production Simplified by Pascal Dennis I learned why. Towards the end of the book, the author wrote: “When a set of methods or techniques connects to a person’s whole being, it becomes a door path. Therefore, we must approach it with the proper spirit: humility, life long learning and respect for people“.