Kaizen: Volunteerism or Coercion?

Does kaizen require volunteerism to reach the highest level of success? Or does it require management mandated 100% participation? What if you are just starting an effort to have people in your organization formally improve their work? Do you recruit volunteers, or mandate improvement by each and every person? Does this evolve into an act of coercion, where people are not fully engaged with the act of continuous improvement - but only doing so to keep the boss off their backs? 

Below are some quotes on volunteerism and coercion...after considering these from the point of view of a leader, what do you now think of kaizen, volunteerism vs. coercion, management vs. leadership? Are there alternative approaches to managing and leading people than MBO, expectations, accountability, hoshin plans and the like?

I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.
-- Lily Tomlin

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and help them become what they are capable of being.

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. 

“Leadership is not manifested by coercion, even against the resented. Greatness is not manifested by unlimited pragmatism, which places such a high premium on the end justifying any means and any measures.”
-- Source unknown

“People are changed, not by coercion or intimidation, but by example.”
-- Source unknown

If he who employs coercion against me could mould me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak. -- William Godwin

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At October 19, 2010 at 9:10 PM , Anonymous Sean Jordan said...

I am thinking that as a leader one needs to look at the problem, and decide what is the appropriate approach. I firmly believe that as long as I am transparent in explaining the reason why I think there is a problem, as well as the business need, the team will accept the opportunity to problem solve the situation. I also give everyone a chance to not participate. Everyone has the choice to not participate as a valued team member. However, the individual should be prepared for any consequences. Teams should know if the decisions are made and why, or if their input can determine the outcome.

Does this make sense? The best way to improve leadership is to keep learning more techniques and practice.

At October 20, 2010 at 9:29 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, Sean! It's been awhile...

So three things I took away from your comment: 1) explaining the problem and offering an opportunity to solve it, 2) everyone has the choice to participate or not and 3) the individual may face consequences.

I guess that is where I think leadership can go wrong. Even though we present the opportunity to solve the problem as voluntary, it really isn't because their may be consequences.

Sorry, I don't mean to sound holier than thou, not my intent: just trying to think through what voluntary really means to leaders in an workplace where the primary engagement between employee and employer is compensation. This seems to be where voluntary kaizen becomes not a benefit to all, but a coercive exercise for managers to get their results with the threat of punishment if they don't get what they want.

Further thoughts?

At October 21, 2010 at 9:59 PM , Anonymous Sean Jordan said...

Glad to have this discussion with you. I don't expect coercive measures or punitive actions if someone does not participate. That is certainly not the proper foundation for a solid CI environment. When I refer to consequences, it is the simple fact that all actions/inactions have consequences. I have seen a team not take action and everything stayed the same for a while. Then the business eroded and closed. I have seen a company use the lean tools, coersion, and over time be worse off then when they started.

Individuals that try to enhance value adding activities will get some type of exposure to others as a valuable employee. Others who don't participate, may not be seen as any worse. However they won't be seen as any better.

I for one do not lead by using a big stick. It is my job as a leader to engage my employees and express the need for change. If the team doesn't want to change, then either I did a poor job of communicating the problem or I may very well be wrong. Am I making myself any clearer?

Similar to "if the student hasn't learned...", if the stakeholder doesn't want to change, then the leader didn't express the need for change effectively. Only after I have explored every opportunity to provide success for the employee, will I then consider the negative consequences. My goal is to get everyone on my team to be a positive contributor. (After significant effort) If one person does not want to contribute, work as team, as well try to improve their knowledge/skills then ultimately I would like to move on without them. I think it is a lofty goal to get everyone moving forward, but it can be done. The goals for each person can be different, but they can be discussed together, worked on together and accomplished. Now, your turn...


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