Posted by: Knightbird | August 25, 2010

Chasing the Rabbit

I revisited the primary thesis of Dr. Steven Spears latest book, Chasing the Rabbit, after drafting a letter of recommendation for a former employee of the Alaska Tribal Health System (ATHC). For the 7 years I have been serving as the Executive Director of Chugachmiut, I have watched 2 executives for ATHS chase improvements. They engaged high priced consultants to bring their knowledge to ATHS in hopes of finding possible improvements, and chase the past successes the consultants may have had and are now packaging and marketing to followers. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing a Baldrige Quality Award, and put together a fancy Balanced Scorecard to track initiatives and improvements. Of course, lots of money was spent on consultants for these initiatives. In the meantime, it seems like the executive door is a revolving one with lots of executives departing in the past 2 years.

One ATHS executive gave a presentation to one of our Rural Anchorage Service Unit meetings a few months ago. As I am now fully immersed in a Lean culture, what was said shocked me. Individual employees are held directly responsible for process failures. There is no teamwork, Kaizen, standard work or cooperation, from what I could tell. When individuals are held accountable for work they have no ability to influence change over, they either hide, or go political by pointing fingers, deflecting blame and seek credit for work a rounds. The workplace suffers when individual employees see individual survival as their goal.

In conversations with employees of ATHS, I learned that the current executive requires his managers to monthly hand write a letter of thanks to each of their employees. When 2 new managers visited me a couple of months ago, I got very nice hand written letters from each of them. In the meantime, I have been looking for improved service for the patients we send there.

During the last annual meeting of ATHS with its membership, I received a very nice, glossy annual report with people saying nice things about the ATHS, and all of the initiatives they have undertaken. Totally, and I mean totally, missing was any factual data. There was not a shred of helpful data in the report. No customer satisfaction data, no process improvement data, no defect revelation—nothing. I was told after I asked about data that they could bury me in data, and thought that we didn’t want or need it. So maybe an ostrich might be a better example of what the organization has become instead of a rabbit chaser.

Dr. Spear had some incredible advice in his book, and he gave concrete examples of organizations that have stopped chasing the rabbit, and indeed have become the rabbit. They did so by changing their management style to Lean management, by respecting their employees, and pursuing continuous improvement. Eliminating Theory X thinking has to be a part of this approach. It seems like the Executive suite is a revolving door except for the political appointments. Data is important, and it must be gathered at the source. Having employees as full partners in improving service is critical. With a Theory X management philosophy, no employee wants to innovate, improve or create. They put themselves at risk.


  1. Nice post. It seems particularly cruel to hold people accountable for each error. As Dr. Deming said, “Hold everyone accountable? Ridiculous!” If somebody can prove that blaming people for making mistakes actually leads to improvement, I’d like to see the data that proves that 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: