Denial and resistance versus self evaluation….. how to approach continuous improvement.

This is a tale of good and bad, a bit of a shocker.

It’s all about denial, ignorance and resistance versus balance, self-evaluation and an effective approach to improvement. Let’s start with the bad….

After seeing Gemba Mat in action at Ricoh I was (ever so slightly over) enthusiastic and felt the need to tell lots of people about it. During my evangelizing with one group we were joined by someone who had been a ‘big cheese’ in their chosen field. Before I could finish the individual had metaphorically grabbed me by the throat and started ranting. The gist of it was….

“Things like this could never work in their world of delivering personal services. It would be ludicrous to try to apply a manufacturing technique to their service area. Also, they were sick of the consultants who had tried to force this sort of thing on them”.

Oh dear….. touched a raw nerve here, maybe they had experienced something like office 5s gone wrong which I have mentioned previously.

I didn’t stick around to argue (far too ferocious), but I would have liked to have asked:

  • Is spending dedicated time thinking about how to improve what you do a bad idea?
  • Is structuring precious time, to use it to best effect, a bad idea?
  • Is involving people who know the work best a bad idea?

I’m hoping the answer would have been no to each of these questions, but the individual was pretty set in their ways. A great shame and unfortunately there are a few of these dinosaurs about.

This brings me on to my happy story.

As part of University open day visits with my teenage son I usually like to get lost from the official tour and find a Lab Technician (preferably Arkwright) or real live student to talk to. Sometimes you strike gold and get to talk with someone who offers a real insight into how the place works. This happened in the last visit, and fortunately this is now my son’s favourite place.

My conversation with a final year student went along the lines of:

Me. “how do you find the working in industry part of the course?”

Student. “Great, it’s a real opportunity to address your weaknesses”

Me. “eh? don’t you go to a place where you know you will be good at it and enjoy yourselves?”

Student. “oh no. It’s all about using that experience to develop your weak spots and turn you into a much more widely experienced person. John over there knew he needed to develop his computer aided design skill and deliberately looked for a tough placement that would push him in this area. That company has actually offered him a job when he graduates”.

Me. “stunned silence….” (Hugely impressed)

None of this is made up or stage-managed (they didn’t seem brainwashed either). I spoke with a few of the students and it was a similar story. They were all incredibly focused upon self-evaluation and improvement. They weren’t afraid of pushing themselves into uncomfortable situations either. This was done as individuals, with their peer groups and they weren’t shy about telling the Course Director and Tutors how they thought the course could be improved. It was great that everyone was involved in evaluation, went looking for feedback and did practical things to deliver improvement.

Like I said, I think I struck gold here. The contrast between my ‘big cheese’ experience and the university students’ couldn’t have been more extreme. I just hope teenage son realises what he’s let himself in for. I also think it will be great when these students enter the workplace, what a difference they can make….. if the rest of us old dinosaurs let them.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Constantly asking the difficult questions, ‘how did I do, how do I get better?‘, is a good approach to continuous improvement.
  2. Opening yourself up to alternative ways of doing things is pretty good too.
  3. There is a lot to be learnt from some of the new people entering the workplace. Listen and learn from them before they become fully inducted into ‘the way things happen around here’.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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