The inspiration that tipped the scales and served as a motivator to write about Desk Jockey “Leaders” came from a headline that appeared on the front page of Friday’s edition of the Toronto Sun (October 25, 2013):
“Despite $862M repair backlog, housing boss says: I need a bigger office! – Keeping Up With the Jones – TCHC Eyes $2-Million Reno to Rosedale HQ”
I would like to think that when people are struggling to survive with the most basic necessities of daily living, renovating the offices of the very corporation that’s helping them would be the last thing on everyone’s mind.
At least one city councillor echoed the voice of reason stating, “I don’t think it’s something we can justify to either the taxpayer of the City of Toronto or our tenant base.” I’m certain this statement also resonates with most people who read the accompanying article.
The CEO of the TCHC (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) suggested that a more professional environment would be more appealing to visitors and tenants and a larger office could be used to host meetings.
I would suggest that focusing on the purpose of the corporation’s existence is first and foremost. Could it be that some people have decided to make a career out of an ever-growing problem that should never have risen to the scope and scale that it has
Whatever hardships the CEO and fellow TCHC employees must endure to perform their work could hardly compare to the conditions that the tenants must live with each and every day.
What could make this any worse? Knowing that our Liberal government wasted $1.1 Billion to cancel the construction of two gas plants – a decision that was sure to win them a few more seats in the last provincial election. No one is accountable and no one is responsible. Unfortunately, the one’s who suffer most are the taxpayers who fund it all.
As I complete this follow-up, there is some good news. The CEO of the TCHC has withdrawn the motion to renovate their headquarters. Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel after all.
Two of my greatest pet peeves are working with people who 1) attempt to manage everything behind their desk , and 2) believe meetings are the answer to resolve everything else that can’t. This article presented a CEO who was planning to do both – in the same office!
As many quickly discover, being a desk jockey “leader” simply just doesn’t work.
For some people, being bound to a desk is an inherent and perhaps unfortunate part of the work they do. But, the last place I would expect to find a lean leader is sitting behind their desk.
I recognize the need for an office and understand that managing a business does require some desk time. However, it’s amazing how some “leaders” think that that’s what it takes to run a business. If you started and run your own business, you know otherwise.
To be in touch with your business is to spend time on the front lines, with your customers, walking the floor, and simply being with your team – not just when you think they need you. Personally, I like to see and understand what is happening directly at the source. This is not to suggest that we interfere with the normal flow of operations or bypass the hierarchy of people who are running the operation. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn what is going on first hand so we can have a meaningful discussion to make improvements or to resolve any concerns as they arise.
The Desk Jockey
Desk Jockeys, on the other hand, rely on the steady stream of paper flowing through their office, looking for discrepancies or anomalies that don’t align with their expectations. Upon discovery, desk jockeys call the responsible person or persons to their office and proceed to explain the problem and offer solutions to them without really knowing what happened.
If there isn’t enough paper already, desk jockey leaders have a niche for creating more. Attempts to justify their reasons for doing so further exposes their lack of knowledge on what it means to really manage and lead their teams.
We can’t assume the system is working simply because the paperwork is correctly completed. If the system is working, does that mean the physical process is working correctly too? Furthermore, could it be that the system itself is fundamentally flawed to begin with?
Of course, desk jockey “leaders” didn’t get their titles by accident. They have a wealth of experience – at least that’s what they tell me – that brought them to their current level of success. It’s interesting to note that I hear this more from “first time” leaders who, sooner or later, learn why it may also be their “last time” leading.
A desk Jockey may also be a “know it all” or “know about”, leaving their teams to suffer and sweat through the issues so they can fend and “learn for themselves”. Almost as though rising to the challenge will make them stronger in the long run. I can picture the analogy well – the baby chick breaking out of its shell to discover the world because to help the chick is to make it weaker than those that did it for themselves.
It’s Just NOT Lean
Desk jockey “leaders” are not fully engaged with the reality that exists within their business. If you’re wondering why morale is low and your team is not engaged, it’s very likely that you’re not engaged with them. Strangely, desk jockeys share the same frustrations as their teams. They just don’t know it.
If you’re an expert, share your knowledge and skills. If you’re not, then you have all the more reason to get out from behind the desk and learn. Having the right answers isn’t going to solve all of your problems but asking the right questions will certainly help to bring you closer.
If our mission is “To deliver the highest quality product or service at the lowest possible cost in the shortest amount of time”, then writing reports for quality deficiencies, cost overruns, or missed deliveries is a strong indication that a problem exists – not behind the desk, but in the operation itself. Meetings and reports are best replaced by real hands on root cause analysis and problem solving that is only effective at the source.
Cell phones, tablets, laptops and other technologies make it possible to conduct business from wherever you are. Run your business from the place that matters most, not your desk. As for me, if I spend 10% of my time in the office, I’ve been there far too long.
Your feedback matters
If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to contact us by using the comment space below or email us at LeanExecution@Gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.
We are likely to find as many definitions for leadership as there are leaders. I recently downloaded an excellent app titled “Leadership Development” from Apple’s App Store and this definition of leadership was presented in one of the many videos:
“Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.”
While the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” may be true for some, true leaders recognize and understand the value of making the horse thirsty enough to want to drink on his own.
Your feedback matters
If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to contact us by using the comment space below or by sending an email to LeanExecution@Gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since we started blogging here on WordPress! We would like to thank our many subscribers and visitors for your many e-mails and comments, making this a fulfilling learning experience for all of us.
This blog was originally founded on the premise that very little information was available on the topic of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) with the exception of the most basic formula and it’s application for single machine operations. We advanced the application of OEE over numerous posts to include multiple machines, parts, shifts, divisions, and even corporate level reporting. We have also maintained that the intent of OEE is to serve as a tool to drive continuous improvements in your operations.
When integrated correctly, OEE provides feedback to operations management that enables further improvements to occur. From this perspective, leadership that empowers employees to implement improvements is a pre-requisite for manufacturing operations wanting to gain the most from their OEE initiative. In this regard, leadership recognizes and embraces lean thinking and instills lean principles throughout the organization. Where lean serves as the overarching strategy, OEE is an integral key performance indicator (KPI) that enables continuous improvements to occur.
We recognized that our initial offerings would serve and be of interest to a niche audience, however, after four years it is exciting to see that we have received more than 100,000 visitors from over 150 countries. The top 10 countries driving visits to our site – to date – are:
We are thankful for the feedback we have received and for the many people who have taken the time to express their thoughts and share their gratitude either in the comments or by the many e-mails we have received from around the world. Social media have certainly played a role in expanding our scope and our reach. We look forward to continuing our journey with you.
“Our goal is to deliver the highest quality product or service in the shortest amount of time at competitive prices on time and in full.”
“There’s always a better way and more than one solution”
“What you see is how we think”
Thanks again for reading and, to our US friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving!
I coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization. In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish. Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.
So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves. These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.
So where do we turn?
Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world. This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.
I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.
A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere. Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.
“Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.”
As every lean practitioner will (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value. Many companies operate under the false pretense that they are already providing the value that customers want or need. As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:
“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”
Lean Thinking challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding. Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Only when we focus on value from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customers’ needs.
Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed. Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.
The Leadership Challenge
Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market. The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.
For as many years as I have been blogging here on Lean Execution, I have been increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our economy, business, and government at all levels – locally, nationally, and globally. To this day, these same interests are all struggling to define and establish models that will allow them to recover, sustain, and flourish in the foreseeable future.
The word “meltdown” entered my mind as the summer heat continued to beat down on us over this past week. As we have witnessed over the past few months and years, many governments and businesses alike have collapsed and there are many questions that have yet to be answered. How did it happen? Was prevention even possible? As I listen to the radio and read the newspapers, I find it interesting that “cuts” are the resounding theme to reduce costs.
I would argue that the real opportunity to reduce costs is to review and identify what is truly essential and then examine whether these products and services are being delivered in the most efficient and effective manner. I have always contended that there is always a better way and more than one solution with the premise that anything’s possible.
The economy is extremely dynamic and infinitely variable. Our ability to sustain and succeed depends on our ability to stay ahead of the curve and set market trends rather than follow them. Apple is one such company that continually raises the bar by defining new market niches and creating the products required to fulfill them.
We also have a social responsibility to ensure that people are gainfully employed to afford the very products and services we provide. As we consider current employment levels here in Ontario, Canada, and other countries around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that cutting “jobs” is not a solution that will propel our economy forward. We must be accountable to create affordable products and services that can be provided and sustained by our own “home based” resources.
Accountability for a sustainable business model requires us to forego future growth projections and deal with our present reality. Expanding markets are not to be ignored, however, we can no longer use the “lack of growth” as an excuse for failing to meet our current obligations and stakeholder expectations.
I continue to be frustrated by the notion that the only way to reduce spending is by cutting services. While the demand for change is high, few are willing to challenge tradition and conventional thinking to improve services and increase efficiencies that will enable us to do more with less, find new opportunities, and to create jobs instead of eliminating them.
On a global level, governments continue to grapple with increasing economic pressures brought on by the recession. Rather than demonstrating fiscal restraint however, governments have grown and spending has increased at rates that far exceed that of the public sector. The result is an unsustainable government and services that will either be cut or funded through newly created revenue streams.
Rather than challenging the infrastructure and systems that comprise the delivery of these services, the governments scramble to find new ways to reach further into our pockets to pay for inefficiencies, high paid union labour, and questionable entitlements. In some instances, services have been abandoned only to be properly managed by the private sector.
For example, when we consider the delivery of health care in Canada, we find a system plagued by excessive wait times and ever rising costs. Doctors and specialists continue to operate as a fragmented community of service providers, adding layers of bureaucracy, greater inefficiencies, and more cost.
These inefficiencies are further evidenced by patients who are sent into a frenzied schedule of appointments and tests in various locations without regard for the many inconveniences and disruptions they may incur in their personal lives.
On the other hand, emergency rooms do not present the same constraints and, though some waiting may be required, patients are examined and assessed immediately, a prognosis is determined, priorities are established, and resources are made available on demand as required.
Expedience does not jeopardize the level of care provided. While the emergency room may not present the ideal case, it is radically different from “standard” care.
In stark contrast to the government-political processes that continue to insult our intelligence, I am always encouraged by the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of individuals who prove that there is always a better way and more than one solution:
The quicker we realize that truly radical changes are necessary, the sooner we can abandon traditional cost cutting practices and apply Lean Thinking to improve society as we know it, not cut it to shreds. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:
Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.
As every lean practitioner will tell you, the process begins by defining value. Unfortunately, many governments and companies alike start by falsely assuming that they are already providing the value that customers want or need. As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:
“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”
In this same context, consider how our desire to “travel from Point A to Point B in the shortest time” has evolved and transformed our personal modes of transportation / communication into the following “value” propositions:
Personal: Crawl > Walk > Run > Tricycle > Bicycle
Roadways: Bicycle, Motorcycles, Cars, Buses
Railways: Passenger and Freight Trains
Seaways: Boats, Ships
Airways: Helicopters, Planes, Jets, Rockets
Telephone: Phones, Faxes, Internet (email, social media)
Each mode of transportation presents a unique solution to address a shared common value: “Short Travel Time”. Although changing technologies is inferred, lean does not require an investment in new technologies to be successful. To the contrary, Lean Thinking simply challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding. Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
Only when we focus on “value” from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customer’s needs. When we consider the premise for this example, the need to travel is implied. It does not answer the question “Why do we travel?
If the reason for traveling is simply to “communicate” with friends and family, then we can see that the telephone becomes a viable solution to eliminate the need to travel at all. From a similar perspective, fax machines and the internet were created to expedite data transfers and to communicate with the world in real-time.
The Challenge is On
It is time for all levels of government, business, unions, and society as a whole to acknowledge that our economy is in a state of crisis and demands real action. Real people are hurting at a time when others are pursuing their own agendas for self-preservation – all at the expense of society. We can not simply assume that everything is “just fine – only more expensive”.
Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market. In this regard, the same challenges exist for governments and businesses alike to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value to the people they serve at prices we can all afford.
Unless government spending is brought under control and services are delivered effectively and efficiently, the system is sure to implode. It’s time for an extreme make over, engaging the best and sharpest minds to bring us to the cutting edge in business and technology, not to the cutting board where nothing remains but shattered hopes and dreams.
Your Feedback Matters
We appreciate your comments and suggestions. Remember to follow us on twitter!