Thursday, August 1, 2013

California Dreaming

I just returned from a trip to California where I facilitated a 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a manufacturing facility in Paso Robles. Two days of work and eight days of fun provided a nice work-life balance. As a lean thinker whenever and wherever I travel I find there are lean lessons to be learned from the travel experiences. Let’s start at Four Barrels coffee shop in the Mission District of San Francisco.

It is commonly understood that to assess a business’ lean success you must assess the culture of the business – how people think, act and interact. You could literally hear, smell and feel the culture at Four Barrels. As a child of the sixties may I dare say this place had a good vibe? The music was from their vinyl collection and as a barista informed me they play vinyl “all day, every day”. The valued and friendly staff, which were paid a living wage and had health benefits, served coffee drinks made with the freshest of coffee. Within 20 feet of the service counter was an old, leather belt driven, small batch coffee roaster. An operator stood watch, making small adjustment and constantly pulling samples from the roaster to check for color and aroma. It was artisanal work. I contrasted this to my experience at a Starbucks coffee roasting facility in Nevada, where I facilitated a workshop last February. There the roasting process was fully automated and processed millions of pounds of coffee annually. At Four Barrels they roasted enough for today and not much more. Four Barrels offered no free WIFI and their customers sat, enjoyed their drinks, and talked. I so enjoyed it there that my wife and I visited four times in our two days in the Mission District. It is very easy for me to assess a business culture. The vibe you feel from the employees you interact with quickly tells you if they are valued or if they are considered an expense. Respect for people, one of the pillars of the Toyota Production System, is the key to the cultural success required on everyone’s lean journey. The employees at Four Barrels were respected and therefore enthusiastic, inquisitive, productive and fun to be around. Four Barrels was so deck!

My next learning experience was provided by my wife when she booked our lodging in San Francisco. She used Air B&B to find us a room. B&Bs were always a small, niche player in the room rental marketplace. But as lean thinkers understand “change is the only constant” and Air B&B is a competitor the large hotel chains (you know the ones that will always charge for WIFI in your room) probably didn’t see coming. The internet provides each and every one of us the opportunity to market and sell products and in this case it is our spare bedroom. Rather than the trickle down economy the internet opens the door to the “go and get it” economy. Here is a link to a NY Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman about the impact of this business model which is a paradigm shift event in the room rental business. . We booked a bedroom in the Mission district for half the price of a large hotel chain room. It was a great location, close to a BART stop, which allowed us to easily explore the city. Our hosts, a hipster couple,

A definition and video link from the web -
Hipster - One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool. (Note: it is no longer recommended that one use the term "cool"; a Hipster would instead say "deck.") The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than 2% body fat.

were probably covering their monthly mortgage payment by renting out two spare bedrooms. In the Mission District, along with the hipsters, were some reminders (old hippies) of the 60’s hippie culture. It was an interesting mix of the old and new and a reminder that as lean thinkers we need to help others understand and except change as the normal condition. Each generation challenges the prior one with new styles of dress, music, hair styles, etc. I think that is a good thing for it continues to drive change. At my age, and based on my body fat percentage, I will never be called a hipster nor will I be wearing skinny jeans - but I do exhibit some of hipster traits.

After our two days in San Francisco we rented a car and drove south to Paso Robles – a city that is fast becoming the epicenter of a new California wine growing region. It is here that I facilitated a two-day Lean Safety workshop. The event was hosted by a medical device component manufacturer in a newly built facility. The attendees, about 20, were as usual a mix of safety and operational professionals. After dinner, on the first day of the workshop, I received an email from one of the attendees. He was the type of student all instructors love. He was mentally wrestling with the material from day one and had attempted to create a table that contrasted conventional, or a compliance based safety mindset, against the lean safety mindset. In his first attempt it appeared he thought you must move beyond compliance safety and focus you organization on lean safety. After some back and forth dialogue he better understood that compliance safety will always be a requirement. But compliance based safety thinking, like using discipline to create fear and intimidation in the workplace in an attempt to drive safety compliance, must change if you are to move your safety culture forward and create a continuous improvement, or lean, safety culture. Lean or safety culture change efforts are both trust building exercises. Conventional compliance safety improvement programs like BBS (Behavior Based Safety) kill trust because they assume up front that the individual is the problem. Lean safety thinkers focus on the process problems and engage the employees in safety improvement. So businesses have a choice – stay the course and manage safety as a top down directive compliance only program. Or they can maintain elements of their current program to ensure compliance and at the same time eliminate discipline and engage their employees in proactive safety improvement efforts.

Life is a series of choices. You can buy your cup of coffee from a large corporate outlet or an independent coffee roaster. You can book your lodging at a large corporate hotel or an underground B&B. You can stay in Paso Robles when it is 100 degrees or drive 30 minutes to the coast where it is 62 degrees (we did). Dreaming of change, in California or anywhere else, is meaningless without action. Real change only occurs when you make the tough choices. You earn trust by giving it. Draw a line in the sand – remove the discipline process from your safety program and imagine, dream if you will, about the culture of trust you can build.

I will be traveling to Australia (Sydney and Brisbane) the first week of September. Contact me if you would like to meet during my visit. Stay safe.