Shingo Prize Conference: Leadership, Excellence and Standard Work

Friday, June 3, 2011

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Shingo Prize Conference: Leadership, Excellence and Standard Work

By Drew Locher

Thought leaders from a variety of industries shared their perspectives on operational excellence and best practices at The Shingo Prize International Conference, in Covington, KY. The conference recognizes companies whose performance demonstrates excellence worthy of receiving The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence.

This year’s top awards went to John Deere Products in Greenville, TN, and Lycoming Engines in Williamsport, PA. Other award recipients included Interiores Aereos S.A. De C.V. Gulfstream Aerospace in Mexicali, Mexico; E-Z-GO (enterprise level), Augusta, GA; Autoliv Airbag Module Facility in Ogden, UT; Sandia National Laboratories-Neutron Generator, Albuquerque, NM; Carestream Health, Inc., Guadalajara, Mexico; ZF Lemforder Corporation, Tuscaloosa, AL; Guanajuato Manufacturing Complex North Plant, AAM, Silao, Mexico; Autoliv Inflator Facility, Brigham City, UT; Denso Mexico S.A. de C.V., Guadalupe, Mexico; Baxter, Cartago, Costa Rica; Kemet Electronics, Matamoros, Mexico; and Metalworks/Great Openings, Ludington, MI. I attended the session as a presenter and a learner.

The theme of leadership came across loud and clear during the conference. The CEO of Denver Health, Patricia Gabow, MD, set the tone for the conference with her presentation, “The Role of Leadership in Lean Implementation and Sustainment.” Denver Health is a 2011 Shingo Bronze Medallion recipient, the first healthcare facility to receive this recognition.

It pleases me that more industry leaders understand their roles in changing the traditional “blame and shame” culture to one of continuous improvement (CI). Dr. Gabow and others from the healthcare industry shared an understanding of the historic leadership thinking in these organizations – both medical and administrative as well as what is driving this thinking (such as payment policies and the educational process).

Zenji Kosaka, a former Toyota manager, provided a review of key improvement concepts in his keynote address. It is always good to get “recalibrated” on the principles from time to time. My takeaway from his presentation is the distinction between problem-solving and CI or “kaizen.” I often consider these together, thinking that it is all about CI. However, there are important differences. Problem-solving, or returning to a desired or target condition, hits on standard work to define the desired condition and related discipline. It requires the ability to distinguish between a problem, cause, and countermeasure.

Kaizen requires a different set of behaviors and abilities. People need to understand that they can improve the methods they use and be motivated to do so. When people fail to follow standard work, it provides an opportunity to improve the process. Kosaka made it clear that in kaizen and CI, management must continually emphasize “going to the gemba” (the actual place where work is done).

Leaders don’t need to know all of the answers. They need to know the questions. Those questions should be posed in a respectful way, at the gemba, to maximize learning. Gary Peterson, vice president of fulfillment operations at O.C. Tanner, delivered “Creating a Lean Culture,” and S. Max Brown of the Organizational Learning Management Institute presented “Real Leadership: It’s Not About Me.” An effective approach is best described as “together we learn.” Sami Bahri, DDS, drives this point home in his book Follow the Learner. Once leaders put this approach into practice, they will see its effectiveness and be hooked for life.

In his presentation “Toyota Kata,” author Mike Rother explained that the Japanese word “kata” has several meanings – a way of doing something, a method or routine, a pattern, or a standard form of movement. It is a way of keeping two things in alignment – what happens inside and outside of an organization, for example.

So, how do we make this leadership approach routine? It resonates with people’s core needs. Abraham Maslow said in 1943 that self-actualization (problem-solving, creativity) is the highest level of people’s needs. Aristotle said, “To be learning something new is the chief pleasure of mankind.”

Practice is needed to create new habits. Create standard work in whatever role you play in your organization, complete with gemba walks, CI, and related activities. Use visual management to re-emphasize your approach. Hold yourself and others accountable for results. In time, your efforts will become part of your “kata.”

 Locher is president of Change Management Associates as well as president of the AME Mid-Atlantic Region.