Asking the Right Questions Rather than Having the Right Answers by Robert Hafey

Policing people and telling them what to do is a management style. These “organizational behaviors” were prevalent throughout most every business before continuous improvement philosophies like Lean emerged in the late 1990’s.  Lean challenged how people were managed and organizations responded by asking managers to manage differently.

Lean is a trust building, never ending journey. A foundational belief of Lean is that engaged and empowered people are central to progress and eventual success. To make that belief a reality managers had to learn to become coaches – coaches who are trained and skilled at asking the right questions rather than having the right answers. Coaching builds trust.  High trust levels signal lean success.

Yet policing people and telling them what to do is still central to compliance safety programs. They are top down directive efforts driven by rules and regulations. A result of this ongoing compliance mindset is often a trust killing “blame, shame and re-train” safety culture.  Leaders need to understand both the impact on, and the opportunity, for their organizational cultural relative to compliance safety versus continuous improvement safety.

While other areas of the business move forward with their Lean efforts, compliance safety remains, with few exceptions, locked in the past. Supporting evidence are the OSHA inspectors and insurance carrier representatives who ask businesses to provide their safety related discipline records to prove they are “serious” about safety. Obviously compliance safety is not going away. Yet there is another type of safety that aligns with the Lean efforts to build rather than erode trust.

If leadership is serious about leading Lean then they should begin with safety – continuous improvement safety or Lean Safety. Unlike compliance safety, Lean Safety is a people centric leadership tool that engages the workforce and builds trust. It is a concerted pro-active effort to make work safer and easier that answers the “what’s in it for me” question for those who perform the work. Without answering that question Lean will never succeed for the culture of the business will stagnate while everyone waits for Lean to fail.

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