We don’t have to win, continuing the fight is enough


All we really try to do with lean is to get teams to own their own work and come up with improvements, one controlled change at a time. And to get managers to take more of an interest in their team’s work, give them a clearer direction to align with customer satisfaction and support and recognize their improvement efforts. Why the fuss?

Because every day we hear: don’t bother.

The CEO says: sure, I can see employee satisfaction can lead to customer loyalty, and customer loyalty to higher profitability. But I intend to sell the company in two to four years, which is the point where I really make money (making money from operations is just too hard nowadays) and it would look could for resale if I had radically reduced headcount.

The employee says: sure, I’d love to have more control over my job, make it more interesting and work with a really good team, but, hey, you know how it really is, just let me get on with my own work and stop interrupting me and if every one would do their job we’d be fine.

The consultant says: very nice, this sensei thing of talking to senior managers to get them to see how to develop their people and install lean systems for organizational learning, but it takes a lot of know-how and I’ve got to staff my juniors every day if I want to make a buck and, in any case, the real demand from executives is for me to go and kick their teams into shape to deliver more productivity so that they don’t have to get involved.

The journalist says: everything to do with business is corrupt. Certainly, I hear your lofty ideals and I’m not questioning your good intentions, but look, if I reduce lean to the worse cases from the most cynical implementations, I can sell that piece to my editor because being indignant about bad news sells.

Some days, it does feel overwhelming.


But a great new paper from people who tackle an even better problem cheered me up: islands of authenticity are enough. There’s a balance of cynicism that ebbs and flows. Right now, it sure feels like the tide of cynicism is coming in full flow, with a new guy in the white house preparing a government of the corrupt, by the corrupt and for the corrupt. But this tide will ebb again. We don’t have to win against the tide. We have to stand, like a faithful post driven into the bedrock, so that boats can tie up and wait for the turn of the flow.

Movements are strong when you believe in them. Loosing the ideal eventually means losing the movement. Which means that even in times of frequent defeat against the cynicism of a finance-bureaucratic-IT systems business world, fighting for our ideal makes more of a difference than we can see immediately.

We don’t need to win, we need to have the fortitude to continue to stand up for our idea of making the world better through making each person’s job better – and doing so together, with the people themselves.


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