Posted by: knightbird | March 1, 2015

Heavily Invested in the System Failures, or Gatekeeping

My colleague, in describing employees who are resistant to a Lean Implementation, refers to them as invested in failure. He means that they benefit from working in a bad system because they have figured out self-promotion in the face of adversity. Something bad happens, the know how to benefit from it. Virginia Mason Medical Center has referred to them as “Capes.” They wear figurative Capes, like Mighty Mouse does (don’t know about Mighty Mouse—look him up on Google), as they sing, “Here I come to save the day.” I call them politicians, based on my analysis of control charts, common and special cause, because politicians gain support based on addressing common cause in a system.

Adopting Lean Thinking is a proactive, offensive strategy to change an organization. It is not common sense. As Taiichi Ohno said, “common sense is always wrong.” It takes leadership, vision and a willingness to accept the premise that problems are good. And another saying that is repeated frequently in a Lean assessment, No problems is problem.”

When you add this investment in failure with gatekeeping, you have a heavily resistant employee who you need to redirect. We already understand from behavioral research about resistance to change. As we are immersed in our culture of work, we learn habits through repetition. We also learn duck and keep our heads down in the workplace. Too much visibility can invite blame. We learn how to deflect blame and hide from it. Dilbert entertains me because of the constant gatekeeping and deflecting of blame, almost always in Dilbert’s direction.

Here is a quote I truly believe in:

“Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.”

Jim Collins, Good to Great

Some employees are truly destructive to an organization. I hate to admit this, but I found it to be true. I have also discovered that they will choose to leave if you are successful with a Lean Implementation. When their work results become measureable, the spotlight of failure is too acute for them to endure—and they leave. And the usually have enough traditional achievements (buzzword achievements that traditional workplaces love), finding a new job is not that difficult. Be thankful for that.

If the gatekeeper is not very marketable, you are left with a difficult choice. Do you attempt to turn the employee to the light, or do you let them go? I have made both decisions. Sometimes turning the employee doesn’t work and they get more disgruntled as others start to improve radically. They begrudgingly go along and talk the talk. But there is no walking the walk. They refuse to engage with the Gemba. I had one employee do multiple Google searches looking for dirt on me. They attack behind the scene, bad mouth you to everyone that will lesson and try to enlist other employees in their attack.

I experienced this type of attack from a group of employees all working in the same system but in different places. As I introduced Lean, and their jobs improved, a number of them left, but an equal number stayed. Before long, our systems improvements and training made this group into one of the most respected in the state. For years, one of them would receive one of two awards given annually from among over 500 similar employees in the state. We had 11 in this group. They received one of the 2 prestigious every year for a few years in a row. They didn’t receive this award in prior years. Lean was the only intervening change.

Letting employees go can help with a Lean Transformation. But it also creates fear in the organization about becoming the next one to be let go. You need to communicate with employees and let them know what you are doing, and why you believe it will be successful.

I am still conflicted about how to handle Capes and Gatekeepers. They are generally very good, adaptive employees who could be very successful in a Lean Implementation. And if you can turn them to the light, they inspire others. The favor they gain by helping other employees navigate the system can pay dividends when those other employees see the change in their Cape.

There is no easy answer. There is a good answer on the hiring side. You hire to a Lean Culture. You get buy in before the employee is hired. If you have them make a commitment to Lean before they are hired, you can have a conversation about their commitment if they don’t follow through.

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