Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Avoiding Difficult Problems

Response to: Toyota is Admired for Good Reason… But About Those Rotating Job Shifts…

Thanks for another good post. It points out that while Toyota does many things very well they have opportunities to improve. And I am sure they agree they have a huge number of things to improve.

I agree, this rotating shifts seems like something important to try and improve. One of the things that happens in many organizations is that working on things that are going to make lots of people mad are often avoided. This rotating shift work seems like something that is likely to make people upset.

Even if you worked on improving it, likely during those PDSA cycles many people would be annoyed. And if you were working on it, you could get blamed, you could be tarnished as someone people didn't like it and didn't appreciate "you doing this to them." If, on the other hand, no one is making significant efforts to improve, even if people are annoyed it is at some amorphous policy and usually doesn't stick to 1 person.

If the dis-satisfaction does accumulate toward 1 person (say the plant manager) that person then often will push through and deal with it - or assign someone to deal with it and stay on them to make sure they do the difficult work (even if doing so will make that person's life much more difficult).

Now I would hope Toyota is better managed than that and doesn't shy away from important work just because the people that would take the lead have strong reasons to avoid working on that task.

There are often so many things to improve that it isn't too hard to shift the focus away from something that no one wants to take on. Sometimes though things are so important they must be taken on. Usually those would be more direct and obvious problems. Systemic problems that cause great damage but in a less visible way (such as rotating job shifts) are less likely to be addressed.

Coping with this issue (of avoiding unpleasant, systemic and long term rather than acute problems) is one of the things that separates great corporate culture from decent or bad corporate culture.

If there are fairly obvious or fairly easy improvements those would likely be acted on. There are, rarely, but still sometimes, instances where those vocal or politically powerful individuals who would lose out in a fairly obvious improvement will prevent action.

I am pretty sure Toyota doesn't have fairly easy improvements on this issue, that they must realize is important, that they are just not getting to. I am a bit less confident that Toyota isn't avoiding trying to find solutions using a PDSA type effort because it would be really hard and risky work for whoever takes it on. Also Toyota can try to rely on the good will built up through their many efforts to expect enough employees to say that they will accept the suffering caused by this policy for the good of the everyone.

I am not convinced there are not ways to improve the situation. And I am pretty confident it is important enough to try. And I believe (though I might be wrong) with a concerted effort of knowledgable people improvements that would make a big difference in the quality of life could be achieved. I am not so certain those people involved in leading the effort would be seen in great lights though even if they "succeed." People are much more likely to remember negative consequences to them personally, even if they gain much more than they lost overall. And most will remember the effort negatively if they lost only a little but overall the gains (to the overall organization) were much bigger: in such cases many will hold onto feelings that they were harmed by those that took action.

Related: Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism - The Importance of Critical Thinking and Challenging Assumptions - Unpacking the Components of Hard Work to Design Better Work Conditions

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