Are You Violating Building Codes? by Kevin McManus
First published in Industrial Engineer magazine March 2005
The escalating popularity of home improvement TV shows brings to mind similarities between the efforts we undertake to improve our homes and those we launch to make our organizations more effective. Unfortunately, some of the cultural factors that cause newly hung wallpaper to appear crooked or a three year old patio to start cracking also cause us to waste resources and frustrate employees are we attempt to improve our organizations.
Perhaps the greatest cultural shortcoming lies in the approach that we use to execute improvement initiatives. When we hear about a new way to make our company better, we buy books and attend training sessions. If we like what we see and believe the method is doable, we ask others in the organization to read the books, attend the training, and begin using what they learn. Like novice home builders, we will make a lot of mistakes if we limit our improvement strategies to such tactics.
If you want pour a foundation that doesn’t crack after three seasons, you have to prepare the soli properly, use the right amount of rebar, and pour the concrete to the correct thickness. This logic is not always followed to the same degree when we attempt to change our companies, and we all know that building codes don’t exist for workplace change efforts.
I wish a workplace improvement permit was required before building a lean enterprise or installing a Six Sigma approach to process improvement. If we had to gain the approval of an improvement inspector before moving forward with work redesign, maybe we would not be a nation of business fad chasers. If we had better directions for measuring workplace performance and we realized the importance of following them, then perhaps we would not still be using measures primarily as a hammer.
There are many resources that attempt to tell you how to do these things the right way, but the guidance often fails to be specific enough. What would happen if our instructions for pouring foundations were limited to the statement “Make sure that the foundation is thick enough to withstand the changes in ground temperature and movement that will occur?” When we tell people they need to empower and listen to employees for their lean efforts to be successful, we are leaving out a lot of important detail – detail that is needed to make a team foundation firm enough to support improvement.
Some would argue that organizations are too dissimilar and dynamic to allow such specifics to be provided. Home improvements are made in a variety of climates, by a variety of people, and on a variety of structural designs, but basic rules and building codes must still be followed for the improvement to look right, function as intended, and last over time. Organizational differences are important consider, but they are not an excuse for not following certain rules or for providing instructions that are vague, incomplete, or erroneous.
If you want a firm patio foundation, you make sure that you pour the concrete to the specified thickness, use the proper amount of rebar in the correct configuration, and let the concrete set for a defined period of time before using it. If you want to effectively support lean or six sigma efforts, you have to redesign jobs to allow adequate time for project work, make sure that team leaders and facilitators are trained and can demonstrate good team skills, and allow resources in a manner that support success.
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