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The Learning Organization

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Taking a cross-section of one of these silos, it appears like a personality sphere that we remember from Psych 101. The layers represent filters of information coming into the sphere. (See Figure 2.) These filters are the way we perceive our environment. Our perception may not be reality. The filtering process compounds the chaotic state of competitive pressures internally. An example of this is a game we used to play in grade school. The game was to whisper a phrase or a sentence into the ear of the individual next to you and then go around the room one person at a time. The last person would state what had been said to him or her. Chances are it had little resemblance to what was first said. This is the political environment that we live and work in.

Now if we take these spheres and let them represent the departments or functions of the company, we can see the problem of operating through vertical and horizontal filters of a perceived nature, which may or may not be reality. (SeeFigure 3). To help make this point let's see if we can define filters in more realistic terms by comparing Ford with Toyota.



Two engines per day vs. 9 engines per day per worker. Is someone trying to tell us something? 777 sq. ft. vs. 454 sq. ft. of plant space per worker. How about the 3 weeks of inventory backup vs. 1 hour of inventory backup? The most interesting point is the labor classifications. Can you imagine the differences in the administrative cost? Layers and layers of organization continually reduce the flexibility and adaptability within our manufacturing companies. This condition in turn, produces waste in every dimension of our business activity. Layers also ensure slow commu­nication and difficulty in getting to the facts.

Strategic vs. Tactical Thinking

In a community not far from where I live, there is one manufacturer who recently pulled the plug on their MRPH project after four years of trying to make it work. After spending several million dollars they have reassigned their project team and assumed it cannot be done. Another local manufacturer started out with a bang, broadcasting their intentions of moving into the nineties with automation and formal systems and after several years and millions of dollars you dare not speak of it. It died and has not been heard of since. These scenarios are not unique. They are happening all over our country. What's the problem? Who's to blame? Unfortunately, the only one to blame is ourselves. The reasons for failure can all be traceable to one core problem—flawed values.

Having worked in manufacturing environments for the better part of the last two decades the most common complaint I hear is "Our management doesn't take the necessary leadership role to implement new management approaches." Or "Our management can't seem to focus on one thing at a time." In my opinion these complaints can be combined into a common problem that appears all across the country from all different types of industries. It is a result of years and years of management style built up into what I like to call "Leap Mentality." That is a very fragmented shortsighted view of our overall business activities. We want immediate results on our goals and objectives, but with this fragmented shortsighted view we tend to leap aimlessly at our targets with disappointing results.

Typical American manufacturing organizations force us to focus on tactical issues with little since of responsibility for the results produced when all the functions interact. We are trained to be loyal to our immediate area of responsi­bility with no thought of the strategic view of the larger enterprise. When the results are disappointing with our very narrow view its hard to see why. All we can do is protect our turf and point fingers, "someone screwed up." Without ownership and a holistic view, learning is once again skirted. We find ourselves in the same spot again and again.

Akio Morita, co-founder of SONY says, "Americans think only in terms of ten minutes, while we Japanese think in ten-year terms. America assuredly faces gradual decline." We, as professionals in our field, have learned that a short planning horizon reduces our flexibility and adaptability to change. Deming said that it will take the U.S. 30 years to catch Japan. Japan says the U.S. turn around should only take 5 years; not the 15 years the Japanese took because they fumbled around a lot.

The real challenge for the "Nineties" is to create an environ­ment where excellence is possible, that is with
• shared leadership
• open communication
• the ability to openly admit our mistakes without fear of reprisal
• empowered employees focused to strive for solutions.
This is critical to even be able to compete in World Class competition. This is the "Learning Organization."

To be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02


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