An inspirational quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right,” led me to reflect on Lean thinking and practices within the workplace. How many times do we do what is “right” and try to solve or prevent problems from happening vs. simply passing the problems along to someone else without acknowledging the potential negative effects on our employees or customers?
Doing what is right is not always easy, especially when there are deadlines to meet, meetings to attend, and work to get done. Sometimes, it is just easier and faster to pass the problem along to the next person in line and let them deal with it. With Lean thinking, one of the underlying philosophies we try to instill is taking ownership of problems as they occur or, better yet, proactively preventing them from being able to occur.
In these situations, there are two fundamental actions that need to occur:
First, we (as individuals) need to acknowledge that a problem exists and understand our true intentions regarding our responses and course of action. When we come across a problem or see something that could potentially cause a problem for a colleague or a customer, do we ignore it, or do we choose to stop it?
With Lean thinking, our goal is to create an environment of respect and a culture in which everyone has the best intentions for each other. Most importantly, we should be willing and able to take action to prevent problems from (re)occurring.
This leads me to the second part of this situation. Not only do we (as individuals) need to take accountability and action, but we (as leaders) need to create internal infrastructures so problems can be acknowledged and fixed at the source and/or routed to the appropriate owners so they can be prioritized and resolved. This type of infrastructure is dynamic and structured in such a way to reinforce desired behaviors. For example, some organizations have processes in place for employees to identify and/or escalate problems. This is a great start; however, if the individuals or leaders that receive this information choose not to do anything with it, then the infrastructure is broken, and it may not get the desired results.
When creating the “right” internal infrastructures, consider the HR policies and procedures related to the employee lifecycle, from recruiting to retirement. If we think about all the different ways in which our internal policies and metrics can be used in a positive way to reinforce the behaviors we are striving for, we can absolutely influence the culture within our organization.
As a starting point, consider the following questions:
- When hiring new employees, are you using behavior interview questions that align with the qualities you desire in your work environment?
- Do you have reward systems in place to support the desired behaviors?
- Are people with the “right” behaviors promoted into leadership positions?
- Do you have visual management systems in place to “see” problems before they occur and/or enable people to respond immediately to fix the problem(s) when they do occur?
- Do leaders provide a psychologically safe working environment so problems and ideas are acknowledged and celebrated on a regular basis?
- Is a training and development program in place to support these behaviors?
- Do customer-facing employees exemplify these desired behaviors?
Certainly, this list can go on, however, it is a good place to start. By understanding how our own behaviors impact and influence others and by taking ownership to create an environment of safety and trust with our employees, we can start now “…to always do what is right.”
If we (the leaders of the organization) truly want and believe “the time is right to always do what is right” than we, as leaders, should come together to create the right policies and procedures to reinforce the behaviors we want and need within our organizations (and within our communities) so these positive behaviors are reinforced in as many ways possible.
The time is right to always do what is right which research shows leads to higher levels of innovation, motivation, and productivity. Additionally, building the right infrastructure and developing the right leadership behaviors to promote a continuous-improvement mindset allows for problems to be identified and solved in a timely manner, it reduces costs, improves quality, and provides our customers (and employees) with an amazing experience!