The Culture of No Standards

A global economy fueled by the furious pace of advancing technology has every organization under tremendous pressure to produce and cut cost. The best organizations, however, are not lured into the trap of short term gains at the expense of long term survival and continuous improvement. (But there is no doubt all of them are tempted.)

Countermeasures for short term gain come from two fatal management failures:  1.) a mismanaged message, and 2.) a culture of no standards.

A Mismanaged Message

The pressure to perform can send a message of results over methods. The extreme is a perceived message from leadership that asks the organization to “do whatever it takes” to make the quotas for the month, quarter or year. The “whatever it takes” message implies producing results regardless of the method, and most who deliver that message do not anticipate the reaction.

We would argue methods are as important as results. If results are achieved regardless of the method, they may be unstainable or worse yet, harmful, in the future. An obvious example is avoiding preventative maintenance in the interest of continued production. Another more dangerous example is to work around warnings, maybe not as severe as an electric breaker signifying a surge in power, but subtler warnings like leaking cylinders or overworked employees. Results should always be measured against the framework of the method used to achieve them to ensure proven business practices were employed and sustainable.

A Culture of No Standard

An interview with a high-ranking employee of Toyota created an interesting exchange about delivery performance. The question asked of the Toyota employee was, “What was your delivery performance in the past year?” The interviewee literally did not know how to answer the question. His eyebrows actually crinkled as he thought about it. What did the question mean? In his world, less than 100% delivery was completely unacceptable, but never without a clear method. He was responsible for buffer stock that guaranteed 100% delivery.

A participant in the interview recognized the problem in translation and asked, “How have you improved the size of your buffer stock?”  Immediately the interviewee’s face came to life and he quickly talked about the kaizens he directed that had reduced his buffer stock by 50% while maintaining the 100% delivery performance.

A question about results does not make sense in a culture where the method is standardized. Only questioning the method makes sense because the belief is the correct method will drive the results. This is a very clear and crucial cultural difference driven by standards. In reality, asking only about results implies the methods do not matter.

Help your organization add a little learning into your results discussions by asking about methods. It might look like this, “Great delivery performance this month team! How did we do that?”

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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