At almost nearly twenty years ago I have started my professional journey learning and teaching the concepts of lean thinking. This is a business philosophy which I am passionate about and it focuses on an endless search for a reason on every action we take in order to create value, motivating as many people as possible towards this goal, which has to be a common goal.
All leaders who apply the lean manufacturing concepts in an organization will face at some point in time through the lean journey a huge paradigm: “If the results of such initiative are so huge and achieved through the management of stronger and more robust processes, creating a lighter and more enjoyable workplace, why is it so hard to make people, especially the leadership team, to follow the initiative at the same takt-time (pace)?
The answer to this question is far more intriguing than you can think about.
In the corporate world, mainly in the western culture, the mistake is the result of a failure often due to the lack of education or skills by the professional. This is exactly the issue! The blaming for mistakes in the organizations is the killer for learning opportunities and learning from the mistakes so they never happen over and over again. We are all afraid of making mistakes and being blamed or punished in the short term or being known as the one who made mistakes in the long run.
The key of lean manufacturing is the continuous learning process an individual goes through by learning from his mistakes, being the best shot to improve the processes or to create “defense mechanisms” in order to prevent the same mistakes to happen over and over.
The fear of making mistakes and being blamed for making mistakes will assure that whenever they happen they will be hidden and not shared for learning purposes. In lean thinking the mistake will occur due to failure in the processes and not due to people. We have to reinforce that there is a huge difference between the “honest” and “dishonest” mistakes, being most of them what we call “honest” or true mistakes, which did occur not intentionally by the workers.
It is clear the challenge that companies face trying to implement lean manufacturing. Going through a number of lean implementations during my career I have noticed that fear for making mistakes create an even bigger problem, which is the fear of taking action. That is why the decision making process in most organizations is extremely long, bureaucratic and hierarchical, so if anyone makes a mistake this person will be judged and pledge guilty as if he was in an invisible court!
In other words, people often have a hard time making decisions on a daily basis because their decisions will lead to actions that in turn can become mistakes.
When I started making strategies for implementing an innovation culture in the organizations I came to the following conclusion:
“If you cannot make mistakes, you will never innovate”
Nowadays we can clearly identify the higher innovation capabilities in small and medium size organizations where the work environment is filling by collaboration and cooperation much more than competition and blaming behaviors. The amount of innovative ideas is directly related to the amount of mistakes acknowledged. At startup companies the cycle time for testing-making mistakes-correction-innovating is far shorter due the leaner decision making process.
If majority of organizations cannot engage the leadership team in the basic principles of lean manufacturing, think about how hard it will be to create and develop an environment for innovation, which has making mistakes as a key part of the innovation process.
I have let my team make mistakes quite a few times in order for them to find the ways for a continuous innovative journey!