The first High Noon webinar went live yesterday to a small audience who really enjoyed the production and gave great feedback at the end. We looked at the management strategies familiar to all in the form of Lean and 6Sigma, considered the advent of ESG and revisited long-lost corrals of CSR where cultural engagement really started out in corporate life.
Here's the journey we took in a nutshell:
The 3 Revolutions
Industrial - 18th - early 19th century. Cities developed around mining and transport networks, causing a boom in population and begging ‘the social question’ - how do you manage large groups of individuals? Poverty and wealth produced a pressure-keg of tension and changed the social dynamic of the Western world.
Technological - 19th - early 20th C. Hi-tech fuels unemployment alongside a burgeoning entertainment industry. Upgrades develop as fast as production allows, leading to a throw-away, ready-meal philosophy. Instant information becomes expected as global networks increasingly sophisticate and demand grows for the latest developments in all available forms of technology. (According to Moore’s Law, the growth of microprocessors is exponential!)
Social - 21st C. Described as ‘capitalism in crisis mode’, new social trends lean towards planetary responsibility and psychological welfare. Mental health becomes an agenda item in the corporate world. Priorities change from profiteering to people-centred goals as more demands are made in light of environmental and social reform.
Where Lean and 6Sigma Missed Out
Motorola first set a "six sigma" goal for its manufacturing business, and registered Six Sigma as a trademark in December 1993. In 2005 Motorola attributed saving of over $17bn to 6S.
Honeywell and General Electric were early pioneers of the new system. In 1995 the CEO of General Electric made it central to his business strategy and in 1998 announced $350m of related savings. By the late 1990s, about two thirds of Fortune 500 companies had launched Six Sigma to reduce costs and improve quality. Then the systems crashed and huge losses followed, because adaptability had been sacrificed in prioritising process constraints.
The term Six Sigma originates from statistical quality control, being a fraction of a curve within six standard deviations of the mean, used in this context to represent a defect rate in goods production. The aim of Six Sigma is a reduction of tolerance, and a concentrated effort on high-quality production. However, in today’s environment it’s not enough to demand excellence without reward. This is why 6S is at first taken up as a great idea, and then renages on its ambitious targets. Acceptance of aggressive management techniques has reduced as demand for personal consideration increases. While it is useful to understand the game theory behind process excellence, translating it to real-time productivity is more difficult and may even backfire.
Lean Manufacturing arose from the just-in-time principles at Toyota adopted in the 1950s, translated in 1988 by John Krafcik and further defined into 5 principles by James Womack and Daniel Jones in 1996. Companies employ the strategy to increase efficiency while reducing wastage and minimising operational factors that are of no benefit to the consumer.
However, neither of these strategies improve human welfare within the company, and may be seen as attempts to extract more from the workforce without putting anything in. As fashionable icons towards the turn of the millennium, Lean and 6S had the benefit of an era wherein people were still reeling from the speedy onset of technological advancement. Today, the call for mental welfare and sustainable practice overrides the ease with which compliance can be demanded, and without reasonable return for effort in improving the wealth of a company, its health is quite likely to suffer in the long term.
Trade unions may not have the force they enjoyed in the middle of the last century but unification of thought has come a long way since then, and people are quick to adopt tactics that will work in their favour. In some industries, notably civil engineering, this has come at a high price to the public as contracts rocket over budget with personnel doing as little work as time and poor project management will allow. However, people in more confined situations tend to be motivated towards better working conditions rather than adopting 'go-slow' to hold up the company’s goals.
Quiet quitting became ‘a thing’ around the time of the pandemic and has now become a normal action to take when working conditions are less than desirable. Quiet quitters show no enthusiasm for their tasks and invest minimal effort into them, effectively being as good as absent from the role without actually leaving. In the office this may seem to be an easier route than for the disgruntled shop floor but in either case, experts view this trend as being a symptom of low engagement and staff morale - increasingly becoming priorities in seeking to stay ahead of the curve.
Aligning a dysfunctional culture with a sustainable mission requires a radical change in thinking from upper management and grass roots, understanding that the stability of the company relies entirely on synergy between them. Often the most significant shortfall lies in communication - breakdowns in information exchange, lack of appreciation of roles beyond one’s own and a consolidation of blame culture all swirl merrily hand-in-hand with responsibility resistance. These factors are embedded in the way human beings relate to each other and their remedy is indivisible from long-term company health.
We talked about people's experiences, their own priorities and what they gained from the session, with contributions from a fledgling consultant, a project manager in an SME, and seasoned professionals from household-name corporations.
Listening to our teams and letting them take responsibility for those factors which prove key to their own happiness may be a million miles from the norm of 50 years ago but is going to be essential In laying down the bedrock for continuous improvement, taking account of the following essentials:
Engagement Alignment with mission Real-time productivity
Join us next time to find out more on what makes it happen!
firstname.lastname@example.org is happy to chat with you on these and related subjects.
Here's a video tucking the concepts we covered into five minutes: