A MIDDLE-AGED couple was leading a group of young students in a weekend retreat camp in Tagaytay. While the husband unloaded their things from the van, the wife handed out room assignments to the students. On the bulletin board of the main lobby was a big poster declaring: “There are no problems, only opportunities.”
One 15-year old boy came over to the husband-team leader and said: “Uncle, I’ve got a problem.”
He smiled and reminded the boy of the lobby sign: “Jeff, there are no problems, only opportunities.”
“Well, if that’s the way you want it,” said Jeff, “But really, I’m telling you, there’s a girl in my room.”
So, how can you tell whether a problem is in fact, an opportunity? I know how some experts solve a problem, no matter how complex it may appear to be. They break a difficult problem into manageable pieces. Assign them to fast-tracking individuals in the organization, and require them to produce concrete results within a reasonable period of time.
The more people you assign solving every piece of a difficult problem, the greater chance the organizations get as many opportunities. This approach is the answer to the six-million dollar question: “How do you eat an elephant?” Author Bill Hogan in his book with the same title prescribes a practical solution: “One bite at a time.”
This came to me again when I was asked to facilitate a Kaizen (continuous improvement) orientation program to the management and key staff of a major Japanese corporation. It was an exciting program for me. Imagine, teaching Kaizen to Filipino employees of a Japanese company. It’s a big deal for me as I had another opportunity of translating the Kaizen concept for those in human resources (HR), administration, sales, marketing, accounting, and information technology (IT) support staff.
The Japanese company wanted to address a pressing disconnection of understanding on Kaizen between the office and production staff in preparation for its corporate wide program to create a full army of problem-solvers.
The process was brimming with disruptive potential as many people question the application of Kaizen to the office and service functions. This is understandable as Kaizen or its Western derivative called Lean, started in manufacturing until it became popular more than ten years ago in health care, call centers, IT, banking, telecoms, and other related service functions.
Our discussion focused on the most common type of wastes or DOWNTIME—the mnemonic of Defects, Over-production, Waiting, Transportation, Non-use of employee talent, Inventory, Motion and Excessive processing. But I went further to explain that the “non-use of employee talent” which was credited to Jeffrey Liker of “The Toyota Way” (2004) fame can be improved to mean the “non-use of existing company resources.” This is much better than blaming the workers for not doing enough, while management ignores the fact that the organization has an idle warehouse or office space, unutilized equipment, poor workers’ morale and many more.
Using DOWNTIME, there are hundreds of examples out there that you can classify under the service functions. To be more specific, Masaaki Imai, in the second edition of his book “GembaKaizen: A Common-Sense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy,” (2012) talks about the 16 types of losses in service functions, which is classified to four: work time; work system; business process; and anything that pertains to the employee (creativity, know-how, health).
I’ve enriched Imai’s 16 losses to 17 including the employee’s discipline, perseverance, initiative or the lack of it. I mean, God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Some people say that’s because He wanted us to spend twice as much time listening as talking. But the immortals among us say it’s because He knew listening was twice as hard as talking.
Knowing this, I did a lot of activities to make the seminar participants mentally-active. That’s the trick of having a productive learning event like it—to ensure that people leave the room with an entirely new paradigm and fresh perspectives to move them to work as hard as before.
If you are like me who has spent more than 30 years in HR and TQM (total quality management) work, you’ll agree with me that the critical issue here is to adjust to the current orientation level of people and work through it, including how to manage workers who have used up all their sick leaves and yet are too bold to call that they’re already dead.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random managementthoughts.