Growth is about People, not Process or Product


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If you can build a culture of PDCA, a culture of learning, growth becomes part of everyone’s job. It is this aspect I believe that separates good companies from great companies.

There is not an internal factor that will be more limiting or more expansive than the people within the organization. Building a learning culture with a properly formed structure is the single most important role that leadership has but often the most difficult. In mature companies, you will hear about transforming to a Lean Culture and the difficulty of change. In startups, we discuss the transitional process that the founder must go through as the company matures. Both areas are significantly different, but the three components are relatively the same; Structure, Culture and Learning.

I was president of a company that tripled personnel one year from twelve to thirty-six people. All things went pretty well. The core group of twelve was an amazing group and several of them adapted to leadership roles well, we prospered. The next jump from thirty-six to sixty people did not quite go as well. Our organization structure contained to many generalist and we required a few specialist to be hired that just by the nature of the new structure were competing for authority with the generalist. Several of the generalist were no longer in the same positions of authority and, as a result, struggled with their new positions. We also experienced a few more personnel issues as a result of people not being trained and ready for leadership. It was a time that I developed a new sense of respect for line managers. I found out that the company strength and potential for future growth was limited to that last line of management.

What happens in mature companies is that they have an existing structure and frequently do an excellent job of developing people for leadership. Growth often times takes on a different form in this arena; it is a form of specialization within silos. Growth occurs because of this uniqueness and offering. However, the more specialized a silo is the more independent it becomes. This often does not fit with the existing culture and structure.

Structure is often considered a easy process of drawing an organizational chart and fitting existing people into those roles. We hire to fill the gaps or ask people to wear two hats. After all, we are all flexible. This may work on paper, but in reality it fails miserably. In Lean circles, you will hear Culture blamed for just about every Lean failure. You also hear the quote “Culture eats Strategy for Lunch”. I would like to add my own, “Structure eats Culture for Breakfast”.

Our processes are built as a result of the internal structures of our organization. It is how we get things done. If we do not change the structure, (Review: A New Approach to Lean – Robert Fritz) we will not be able to meet the demands our customers require. The proper structure is a combination of the typical organizational chart and a Venn diagram. The best model that I have found to do this is the Lean model of Leader Standard Work explained in David Mann’s book, Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, Second Edition, Second Edition. For more information on Lean Standard Work review the Learning Lean Training Module on LSW.

The Lean practice of Hoshin Kanri allows us to consider what types of structural changes we need to make. This process not only allows for change, it actively seeks it. Change and restructuring become naturally motivated. As we progress, the organization becomes clear about the vision we share and joins together in making change work. For more information on Hoshin Kanri review the Learning Lean Training Module on Hoshin Kanri.

Another important aspect of growth is learning. I am not referring to additional schooling or conferences. My reference is learning from within and outside the organization. However, if you do not build an internal learning structure what you learn from vendors, customers and markets will go for nil.

What people forget about Lean is that it is the change agent for an organization. In its simplest form, you first go and see the current state. Second, you visualize your process. You make your process steps visible. You visualize things in a way that reveals your problems, not in a way to hide problems. If you understand what standards are, how the process should work because it’s very clear, then whenever we see a variation from the process we react immediately. This allows you to choose one problem from the other and just solves them one by one. This is incredibly powerful, this vision we have with Lean systems of increasing our competency, increasing our training without having to take people off line, without having to get to classrooms, but by building it into the way we work. It is this empowering aspect that is not easy. However, it may be the only way an organization can master Lean. – From the training module below.

If you can build a culture of PDCA, a culture of learning, growth becomes part of everyone’s job. It is this aspect I believe that separates good companies from great companies. For more information on PDCA review the Learning Lean Training Module on PDCA.

This week, April 22nd thru the 26th, we will concentrate on how to grow, or scale-up your small business. I will be scaling-up the entire week culminating in a webinar, The Lean Scale Up, which is followed by a period of Q & A on the afternoon of April 26th. Only registered participants will be invited to webinar and Q & A.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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