Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement

Combat complacency with this simple technique.

As Leaders one of the many watch-outs is complacency creeping in to our teams.  Once it does, it can be a real battle to fight it off.  The best way to combat complacency is to always challenge your team.

Early in my automotive career when I was responsible for an engine plant, I learned this lesson of combating complacency with challenge from one of the company’s senior executives.   When I joined the company and took over responsibility for the engine plant, it was not running very well.  In fact, the engine plant was responsible for shutting down the vehicle plant multiple times a shift.  Not a good place to be!  I rallied the team as the new leader and convinced the demotivated team that we could turn this operation around if we worked together and tackled the biggest issues first and knocked them down one by one.  After a few months, they did it!  We improved the operation rate from the mid 80s to an average of 95% against a target of 96%.  It was an incredible amount of hard work and perseverance.  We were no longer shutting down the vehicle plant, had reduced the buffers between the engine plant and the vehicle plant, mean time between failures and improved and they had driven great improvements in quality.  The team was pumped and feeling very proud of their achievements.  Although not yet at the 96% target, we had demonstrated our capability with some shifts operating above 96%.

One day when after we had been achieving the 95% operation rate fairly regularly, the senior executive, let’s call him “Norm”, stood and observed the engine line for the entire shift, in the same manner as Taiichi Ohno used to do.  At the end of the shift, he called me over.  “Oh oh, I thought, I’m in trouble”.  Norm said, “you MUST do a 3 second takt change.”  I was stunned.  The line was operating at a 60 second takt and a 3 second takt change was not insignificant.  Our operating rate would crash to the mid 80’s again and the team would have to work really hard to get it back up to the 96% target or even the 95% average we had been achieving!  I argued and pushed back.  Norm wouldn’t budge.  We “discussed” the need to do this takt change for sometime and Norm was getting frustrated with me.  Eventually after wearing him down, he explained that as leaders, we must never allow our teams to become complacent.  After such hard work and achievement the team is likely to ease off and lose their edge.  The takt change, he said, was to give them a new challenge, to keep them focused, motivated, and sharp.  I  reminded him as to how hard the team and worked and that we hadn’t yet achieved the 96% target… and he responded “celebrate the achievement so far, then do a 3 second takt change”.

I’ve never forgotten that encounter with Norm that day and have always tried to keep my teams challenged to combat the enemy of complacency.  Continuous improvement initiatives to attack waste, kaizens to improve safety, quality or productivity, new more aggressive targets, introduction of new or additional metrics/KPIs, or takt changes, are all ways you can keep your team challenged.

How do you combat complacency with your team?

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