My brother-in-law Josh is an unusually competent person, able to take on and complete a seemingly infinite number of discrete tasks.
Indeed, it’s very rare to see Josh doing just one thing.
At home he’s often doing at least two or three of the following activities at any given time-listening to music, playing the guitar, burning a CD, making and then tending a fire, spending time with his children, reading the paper, making drinks for his guests, connecting with his wife Rebecca and banging out texts or other communications on his PDA.
This may sound like classic modern multi-tasking that leads to a diminished quality of attention and shared connection, and, to some degree I think Josh would agree. Yet my sense is that with Josh this behavior is somewhat different from others’ for several reasons.
To begin, like my wife Dunreith, his mind works on many channels at the same time, so giving them an outlet does not necessarily mean a diminution of attention to any one task. Beyond that, he has figured out systems to interrogate problems and move seamlessly and constantly from idea to execution.
A big part of this ability is the idea and practice of lean management in his work and personal life.
Josh is vice president of marketing at OMG, a mid-sized company that builds roof fasteners and other construction-related products. His talents have been recognized there not only by a promotion to a high leadership position, but also by his being trained extensively in kaizen, or the quest for continuous improvement.
In addition to being a generous and inclusive brother-in-law, brother and uncle, Josh has enriched my life by pointing me toward business books to read. While initially I sought out this genre as a means of connection with him, I have over time to enjoy the works for their contribution to my own knowledge and development.
Josh’s latest tip for me was George Koenigsaecker’s Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation, a brief and accessible book that delineates the steps lean leaders can take to help change their company’s culture and operate in a leaner fashion.
In essence, lean is about eliminating muda, or waste, as a way to add value to the customer. By definition, any activity that does not lead to greater and more rapid fulfillment of customer satisfaction is wasteful.
Koenigsaecker has been at the forefront of lean leadership in America during the past 30 years, and in this book he gives a brief definition of lean before turning to his focus on leadership.
The first of the book’s seven chapters is recap of his personal journey as a lean leader and the results he helped companies like Jake Brake and HON accomplish during his time working with them.
From there, he identifies the type of approach and activities leaders need to take to change cultures from being less to more lean.
Lean leaders must be humble, in touch with the workers by going to the work site, a commitment to lead and a demonstrated ability to mentor, and a belief in the kaizen process.
The culture change from current to ideal states is neither a short nor an easy process. In fact, Koenigsaecker writes leaders can expect culture creation to take up to four years.
The related efforts to identify,and then solve, root problems through a continuous questioning process-he writes at several points about asking “Why” five times-and an effort to develop people underpin this long-term attempt.
I have posted before about Toyota, and the auto giant is a major presence in this book, too. For years, Toyota was the proverbial poster child for all things lean, and it would be interesting to read Koenigseacker’s take on the recent auto recalls and the seemingly unforthright manner in which the company brass handled them.
For his part, Josh said he thinks Toyota will weather the storm and be just fine-a statement that seems to get some backing in the company’s recent increased sales due to major post-recall price slashing.
The ultimate verdict on that issue will become more clear in time, and one does get a familiar feeling to reading about Toyota’s virtues being extolled as one does to reading about Tiger Woods’ relentless drive for perfection in articles and books published between his globally publicized serial infidelity to light.
Nevertheless, the book does provide a useful primer for leaders to consider, and for workers to understand, as companies embark on a lean transformation.
One of many intriguing points that Koenigsaecker makes in the book is that after about 100 kaizen events, people become hooked on the method and engage in a lifetime quest for improvement.
By that standard, then, I would estimate that Josh has had at least that many events, if not far more.
Regardless of Toyota’s future performance, Olympic is fortunate to have Josh among its ranks and I consider myself lucky to know him through being married to Dunreith-a sentiment that only strengthened after he lent me the Koenigseacker book.