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 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“.
Back in the days when I was working in Ecuador, I had a lot of time on my hands during weekends. With no family and very little friends around, I spend those days between two of my favorite hobbies: photography and reading. I do not remember exactly how it was, but the book Gemba Kaizen from Masaaki Imai was on my hands and I start reading it. I was wondering if such a thing as lean manufacturing exists or if it was just another pitfall to take money from companies already in trouble.
I was not looking for a job but when I received a call from my hometown in Puerto Rico to work as Process Engineer just fifteen minutes away from my house, I could not believe how lucky I was. After a phone interview, I was invited to the company for an interview in person and it was right there when all my enthusiasm for coming back home was smashed with a simple question: What is Lean Manufacturing?
I was trying to squeeze my brain to remember the exact words from the book I was reading two weeks ago to be able to give a firm answer that would make my interviewer believe that I knew something about it. I am not a good liar so I decided to tell the truth, that I start reading about it but I never work with it and I have no idea how to implement it. Being an industrial engineer and quality practitioner, I had strong ideas and skills about continuous improvement so I talked about how all those skills, my taste for challenges and being autodidact would help me to learn and implement Lean. I got the job, I guess that the mix between my passion for learn new things and make a difference along with my honesty impressed my former boss enough to give me the chance.
That happened a little more than ten years ago, the minute I signed my acceptance letter, my lean manufacturing journey begun. Still, I have no clue how each new training or event would be if I will be successful in changing people’s way of thinking and act; but I keep doing it with more or less success. I do not pretend to be a teacher to nobody, through this posts I just want to share my experiences hoping that I will help somebody; and also my questions and doubts hoping that somebody out there helps me.