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December 5, 2013

Focus on the system

By shutterstock_75359629_feat

As part of my quest to really understand the Lean movement, I’m going back to its roots and reading Out of the Crisis, by W. Edwards Deming, originally published back in the 80’s. If you want to know where the idea of continuous improvement, or Kaizen came from, read this book. In this brief article, I’ll summarize one of Deming’s most important points.

Have you ever watched an employee at a retail store struggle with a slow terminal as she tries to ring you up? How much pride can she take in the service she’s giving you when the system prevents her from doing her best work?

Focus on the system! Strive to improve it every day so that there’s nothing in the way of employees doing their best possible work. This allows employees to take pride in their workmanship, which leads to both high morale and performance.

This makes me want to revisit the old cliché, “Hire great people and get out of their way.” This means a lot more than just hiring great people and then sitting on your laurels. You’ve got to continually improve the system that those people are using – you’ve got to listen to them when they say something is broken and fix the system in order to “get out of their way”. There are a ton of great benefits when leadership teams insist on working this way, not the least of which is an increase in the trust that each employee feels toward the leadership of the company.

What have you done recently to improve the system where you work? If you’re powerless to improve it, have you asked for help from someone who does have that power? On that note, what have you done recently to improve yourself?

Something to ponder over the holidays :-)

About the Author

is a Culture Coach at Pluralsight. As a cofounder, Keith was the Chief Technology Officer for many years, building and hosting the website and all things IT. These days there's a whole team of folks taking care of the tech, and Keith is focusing more on company culture, which is one of the most important aspects of a fast-growing business.