April 25, 2014

Mark Hamel dives deeper into ROWE and Shingo; plus thoughts on the person vs. the organization

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In the second half of the discussion on ROWE in the Shingo context taking place on Tim McMahon’s A Lean Journey blog, Mark Hamel, author of The Kaizen Event Fieldbook and a Shingo examiner, points out some of his concerns with ROWE.

Mark pointedly demonstrates where ROWE has strengths, but might not fully align with the Shingo model, as well as raising questions on a few of the underlying assumptions of ROWE.  Here’s a snippet:

ROWE ostensibly engages and empowers the workforce. It strips away some of the organizationally and self-imposed muda of rigidity and silly limitations and focuses on accountability and results. It’s tough to argue with that.

Part of my concern has to do with interdependence. In an enterprise, we can’t all be free actors all of the time – whether we are part of a natural work team or are individual contributors.

Virtually no one in an organization is self-directed (even the C-level executives, just ask them!). What we can be is self-managed within the aligning context of deployed breakthrough objectives (think strategy or policy deployment), key performance indicators, value stream focus, standard work, problem-solving, etc.

So, one burning question I have is where and how does “do[ing] whatever you want, whenever you want as long as you get your work done” intersect with this notion of interdependency and self-management? And, with that, how does it square with the Shingo Model principles?

  • Respect for every individual. Freedom without accountability is license (not good). Accountability without freedom is repressive (also not good). ROWE seems to get that. But, back to the interdependence – can my focus on getting my work done trump the value stream performance and/or that of my natural work team members

Mark continues on through each of the principles of the Shingo model, pointing out areas of concern that advocates for ROWE need to address.  Head on over to Tim’s blog to see the rest of the article.

“Freedom without accountability is license” is a wonderful phrase that is going to stick in my mind for quite some time.  It perfectly describes the problem with allowing too much individual discretion without allowing for the performance of the system, to the benefit of the larger organization.

Something I have recently come to appreciate is that “Respect for Person” is not synonymous with “Respect for People.”  Respect for person can lead to the type of license Mark warns us about.  Respect for People, on the other hand, is much more a broader, organizational focus.  Consider the grizzled, old coach or drill seargent who pushes everyone to their perosnal best, for the benefit or the group.  You don’t have to be nice and pleasant to have Respect for People in the Lean / Shingo context.  What you do need, however, is the experience to see what needs to be done and wherewithal to guide others to do it.  Think of “Respect for People” as “Respect for the Group” and you will begin to understand, as I have, that getting the team as a whole to perform very often means you have to pull someone aside and read them the riot act.

But you do so with a very certain purpose in mind – the betterment of the organization as a whole. Or, in other words, to get the results you desire, which includes high organizational performance.

The ROWE concept, as it has thus far been expressed, represents to me the ideal way in which people want to work.  It is , in many ways, a system based on what every employee has always felt at what time or anothe:, “I am good at my job. I know what I am doing. So, please, just get off my back and let me do my work.”  Unfortunately, the way in whcih people most want to go about their work may, at times, be entirely inconsistent with the best practices for how an organization should be operated.

To align those two things, the individual desire for freedom and control and the organizational need for sustainable, high business performance is at the heart of any concept concerning management best practices.  As I continue to explore the connections between ROWE and Lean, I think the focus will center on finding the ideal balance between those two needs.

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