Proactive people management one key to Lean success

In October 2005, I wrote a column for PLANT ENGINEERING titled, “FAT Results from Lean Implementation: Managing Business-Process Improvement Proactively.” The FAT results I referred to were: Financially triangulated results, which come at an Accelerated pace and are consistently Translatable across the organization.
By Arun Shukla July 1, 2006

In October 2005, I wrote a column for PLANT ENGINEERING titled, “FAT Results from Lean Implementation: Managing Business-Process Improvement Proactively.” The FAT results I referred to were: Financially triangulated results, which come at an Accelerated pace and are consistently Translatable across the organization. The ideas I gave readers for taking a proactive approach to business-process improvements can, in fact, take them a long way toward achieving these results. But that’s only one half of the equation.

To achieve FAT results from Lean initiatives, it’s imperative that organizations also manage their people proactively, and in this column I’d like to give some tips on this side of Lean implementation.

The reactive management of process performance entails waiting for a problem to occur, then correcting it; proactive process improvement focuses on looking for ways in which satisfactory processes can be kept running smoothly or even improved. In the same way, managing people’s performance proactively requires coming up with creative ways to maintain satisfactory job performance %%MDASSML%% preventing problems before they occur %%MDASSML%% or to help employees go from good to great.

People Management in Lean Projects

Lean brings change in the way people relate to processes within the organization. Change can hurt people both with its magnitude and speed, and it can be stressful. This is especially true if the improved productivity resulting from lean implementation creates a perception that fewer hands will be required at the workplace.

Expanded responsibilities, team ownership of a process and the emphasis on disciplined flexibility that characterize lean programs often lead to resistance. Monetary rewards can only go so far to overcome this resistance.

The lean journey can be seamless and less painful when the management of people’s performance systems is an integral part of the lean program. To fully grasp the reactive and proactive people management aspect of lean projects, it helps to know the elements that can affect people performance and the drivers that can help manage behavior. We call the sum of these elements and drivers the “Performance System.”

How the performance system works

The Performance System model provides a practical, useful framework that clarifies human performance. Using this model, managers can construct and analyze each component as it relates to an employee, team, or work group, and then improve and align it to support performance expectations. Tracing its roots back to the early years of behavioral science research by B.F. Skinner, we’ve validated this model in numerous project and work environments. The five components of the performance system model are:

  • Performer: the individual or group expected to behave/perform

  • Situation: the immediate setting or environment in which a Performer works, such as the project environment

  • Response: the behavior (also known as performance) of the Performer

  • Consequences: events that follow the response and increase or decrease the probability the Response (behavior/performance) will occur again, given the same Situation

  • Feedback: the information that Performers receive about progress toward their goals; it helps guide their Response (behavior/performance)

    • The five elements of the performance system are interlinked and should not be considered or administered on a stand-alone basis. Lean projects that impact an entire organization require a performance system hierarchy that is mapped to the organizational hierarchy. This clarifies the organizational dynamics and integrates both people goals and organization goals.

      The Performer is usually an individual but can have a broader definition as a team or larger organizational unit. This broader definition is most useful in Lean implementation.

      The Situation refers to the immediate environment or setting in which the Performer works %%MDASSML%% the Lean project team, the department or business unit of which the Performer is a member. Three key elements describe the Situation %%MDASSML%% performance expectations, signals to perform and the work environment. Each element of the Situation impacts an individual’s or Lean project team’s behavior.

      Consequences are events or conditions that follow a Performer’s Response and increase or decrease the probability that the Response will occur again, given the same Situation. Consequences can be encouraging or discouraging to increase or decrease the probability of future Responses.

      Feedback is a critical component of the Lean project performance system. It provides Performers with performance-based information about progress toward the organizational goal of Lean enterprise. Comparison of actual performance to the plan guides the Performer in maintaining or modifying Responses/behavior.

      Understanding proactive management

      Proactive process management coupled with proactive people management can produce benchmark project results. All five elements, the Performer, Situation, Response, Consequences and Feedback are in the play in a proactively managed human performance system aimed at influencing the behavioral changes in the Performer. The distinction between proactive and reactive people management lies between observing past behaviors and changing future behavior.

      This is accomplished by:

    • Determining Responses to be changed or improved by grouping reported deficiencies

    • Identifying Performers whose Responses must be changed or improved

    • Modifying the performance system variables (Situation, Consequences and Feedback)

    • Communicating and implementing changes

      • The questions in proactive management of people performance are forethoughts, not afterthoughts.

        To empower the Performer to deliver the desired Response, the following questions help design the performance system:

      • What necessary skills and knowledge will be required by the Performer to deliver the desired Response?

      • How would the importance of desired performance be made visible to the Performer?

      • What physical and mental attitude is needed by the Performer?

        • Proactively managing the Situation element requires asking:

        • What is the desired output?

        • What performance standards need to be designed?

        • How can the standards be made attainable to the Performer?

          • To ensure that the Response can be measured correctly, the following questions need to be answered in the design phase:

          • Which process performance will be observed?

          • What are the desired performance levels?

          • How will the desired, undesired and alternative Responses be made visible?

            • Designing a performance system is not akin to cultural change, but it is a practical approach to influencing performance in a focused way to get desirable results for projects. Cumulative successes help build a Lean culture without directly confronting the existing one. Engaging people in a way that builds positive reaction to Lean implementation within an organization is critical. By creating a performance system that encourages people to succeed, the Lean journey moves into a new territory of significant, sustainable results.

              Author Information
              Arun Shukla, Kepner-Tregoe practice leader, is responsible for the implementation of the company’s systems improvement and workplace transformation products and services. He can be reached at . Kepner-Tregoe, Inc. (