Complacent Competency

Patient: “So Doc, what do the test results say?”

Doctor: “Your vitals look good; outwardly you appear healthy. But unfortunately, a tumor is growing inside. We can only hope it’s not malignant. We need to address it quickly.”

Top Management: “So what did the assessment show?”

Consultant: “Many of the numbers are excellent, but your discipline is sliding, as is your focus. If you don’t change behaviors, your organization’s long-term viability is in question.”

Over the past two decades, most manufacturers have stopped fighting the need for an improvement culture, realizing that global competition is only getting stronger. Most have become aware of the concept of waste and have taken at least a few steps towards lean thinking.

We often hear that 75 percent of lean efforts fail. Those businesses often have remnants of yellow 5S stripes on the floor or hour-by-hour boards last filled out months ago. They are typically companies that tried to implement a tool, didn’t get magic results, and concluded “lean doesn’t apply to us.”

Another 20 percent plateau. Their intentions are honorable, but they only pay attention to a handful of tools that seem to have provided value in the past. The floors are clean, and kaizen events held every quarter or so, with the “newspaper” items still not completed sixty days later. They want to get better month-by-month, but sometimes business gets in the way.

The remaining five percent has regular, if not continuous improvements implemented. Culture expects and demands that all company members contribute to ongoing problem solving using disciplined processes. They keep important metrics visible and focus on eliminating process variation and on furthering human development. They review integral numbers, processes, and behaviors frequently to ensure everyone is positioned for success.

Let’s ignore those first 75 percent. We can only help those that want help. Consider them the folks who never go to the doctor. They don’t exercise, eat as much as they want, and occasionally sneak a cigarette. They believe themselves competent, and their complacency an enviable trait. Some will live well to a ripe old age; the majority will not. The difference? Luck.

It’s the next 25 percent that can fall unconsciously into complacent competency. The top 5 percent have fought it off, but it nonetheless lurks around every corner. Skipping just one gemba walk; saying we’ll get back to training next month when we’re not as busy; those are signs that complacency is insidious.

The 20 percent are the ones that likely suffer right this minute from complacent competency. They are much better than they used to be, improvements are happening every year, and they’re in the upper 75 percent of all industry metrics.

It’s easy to question if TWI or Kata would really add value. After all, a decade or more of progress without them suggests it’s sufficient to simply focus on what has worked so far.

Consider these the folks who know they need to lose weight but think that can wait until next year. And suddenly it’s a decade later.

There is no measure of “leanness,” and the concept doesn’t make sense anyway. The question is: Is your performance improving in all areas sufficiently to design and deliver great value profitably in changing markets?

Sure, stopping to catch your breath while running can make sense. So can learning to run through the pain. It depends if you’re running for pleasure or to improve your performance.

As you examine the progress of your organization in all areas year-by-year over the past 20 years, do you see the gains coming more slowly? Don’t believe for one minute that the low-hanging fruit has the greatest value and that improvement beyond that is simply not worth it.

Over the years, your team has learned to better recognize opportunities to add value. They can be much more effective problems solvers. They can be much more committed to personal development. They can automatically consider suppliers, employees, investors and the community at large in addition to the customer.

While your blood pressure and pulse are right where they should be, your BMI might be sneaking up a tad. Do not let recent successes lull you into competent complacency. Yes, you might be afflicted by a blindside disease. But you can ensure you are as healthy as possible to fight your best fight. Ask taxi services about Uber and the Big Six record labels about streaming music. Had their eyes been open and their service outstanding we’d be looking at different outcomes.

Don’t let current excellence make you complacent. All of your constituents are counting on you to stay healthy as you age.

As published in AME’s Target Online