Posted by: Knightbird | November 30, 2011


When you have “Learned to See” what is possible, and leadership in an organization who should be a partner is presenting a solid brick wall in your path, how do you react? In Alaska, we have patients who need certain kinds of specialty care. At a meeting I attended today, it became clear that patients in our system wait, often for long periods of time. As we were talking about how to fix this problem, I endured more frustration. We participated in 2 brainstorming sessions that were in serious lack of focus. I saw so many of the old style of trying to fix problems in a complex organization. First, there were about 30 people involved, over half of them telephonically. About 30 minutes was allocated to very complex problems. And we didn’t know what the problem was. There was no problem statement. And we were operating without facts. We did have the anecdotes from the assembled staff, but nothing in the way of data that we could rely on. Before we understood the problem, we were off to the race with proposed solutions. We left without a plan, and only a commitment to have a report back at our next meeting. By the way, I am not a regular participant in this meeting. CEO’s and Director level staff don’t participate in such meetings. Two other Director level staff was present. There was no indication of Executive level support for this project. The other Director who was there stated being present only to observe.

My frustration comes from having tried to address this issue in 2007. I had proposed a Kaizen, which my employer would pay for. We ended up contributing the funding we set aside for the lean consultant to fund a new employee instead. We then held two lengthy meetings, one with over 70 participants. We didn’t map any processes. We ended up with a set of documents and were told to use them or not, as we saw fit. The project went through 3 or four employees before the focus on this project was completely lost. It never made it to the implementation stage despite the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the meantime, our patients continue to endure poor service. We expend millions of dollars on waste for achieving modest value.

Many of the employees in the room were visibly frustrated, but I see resignation to more of the same in their faces and in the comments they made. They pretend to go through the motions knowing full well that very little will be implemented. And I continue to be frustrated because the Executive level can’t see, and won’t learn how to see.


  1. I think all change agents share your frustration and have encountered all the problems you have highlighted.

    The problems are deep rooted in the culture of an organisation. They are the root cause of the failure to implement and or sustain change programmes.

    When senior leaders sign up for change they completely underestimate the commitment they have to make themselves. They assume they can invest in the coal face of a business by delegating change and making no changes or commitments themselves. Few if any consultants explain this and go in with kamikaze kaizen then take the money and run leaving the customer to pick up the pieces.

    Successful change is deep rooted in psychology and understanding the impact of changing even simple behaviors is difficult. Only when the seniors invest in severe system changes do they stand a chance and only when they take time to understand and coach the changes rather than delegate will they have a chance.

    Good luck.

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