5 Guiding Principles Part Two – Challenge


In my previous blog I talked about my experience with Go Look See, the segue to the other guiding principles, problem solving and continuous improvement.

When running workshops for leadership I ask the participants to try and rank the Five Guiding Principles in order of importance and then to rank them again in order of difficulty.  You can see by the graphic that this is not done by Toyota as there is no particular ranking of importance but they are grouped.  In the case of my workshop participants I am interested in the reason why they would choose to rank one over the other and to generate some debate amongst the team.  The one guiding principle that floats to the top of both the Important and the Difficulty list is Challenge.

I must stress I have only performed this in the UK and have yet to see whether the same pattern emerges in other cultures.  For some reason leaders are finding it more difficult to Challenge the status quo when dealing with their managers, peers or direct reports. There is a sense that the act of challenging is inappropriate and may lead to conflict.

From the outset, we need to understand that conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, a great deal of insightful learning can come from challenging a problem from different viewpoints. My first dive into understanding conflict was with the Parent, Adult, Child model which has stuck with me ever since. Acting or reacting as an adult in a situation will always lead to a better discussion than condescension in parent form or childishness as a child would.

My long winded point is that leaders must reserve the right to challenge the status quo.  It is not solely the prerogative of an executive, its everybody’s. A supervisor must have the ability to challenge performance, just as a senior leader should as well as an operator.

Challenge becomes a question of practise just like all things in our working lives.  Finding the courage to do it is another thing and subject for another blog.

The other aspect of challenge is the idea of stretching ourselves constantly against targets and objectives, an activity which some organisations perform admirably while a great deal shy away from resetting established targets as they enjoy the feeling of winning. Its not by luck that Toyota talk of needing ‘courage and creativity’ when challenging the status quo. Challenging a team that is doing well is just as difficult as facing a team with an underperforming process.  The fact is that it has to be done to continuously improve and this becomes a leadership issue in Lean.

Reserve the right to challenge in your business.  Do it well and you will galvanise people into action.  Do it badly and you may find yourself in a precarious position.  I would urge you, therefore, to reach for the other guiding principles to figure out how best to proceed starting with ‘respect for people’.

Challenging the status quo as part of Lean Operating Model

The 5 Guiding Principles

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