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Harsh words are ok sometimes (#16)


Twice in the last week I've been harsh with people I'm coaching. I raise this subject because of my belief that, sparingly, harshness has its place in capability development. This may be because I was on the wrong end of it for the best part of 18 months. The other end, by the way, had a stern looking Japanese Toyota Advisor (Muraoka-san) attached to it. Sometimes a mind needs to be focused sharply.


Act 1 this week involved a client's internal lean engineer I am coaching, who was leading a shopfloor based improvement activity. Against previous training he tried to (in English parlance) "wing it" without sufficient preparation. His reward was a chance to peer into the abyss and endure a couple of uncomfortable hours before a lifeline was offered. My job, as ever, was to facilitate this learning without jeopardising the activity or team understanding.


Act 2 occurred the day before yesterday, as one of several senior supervisors I am coaching in a medium sized manufacturing business reverted to "that's how we've always done it". This after several months of eye sharpening and attempted paradigm busting. We were observing a process of his that has proven troublesome recently. It's ok, we all take time to understand and we all backslide occasionally. My harshness ensued because of his attempt to defend his refusal to ask 'why?' the job can't be done differently.


In both cases I have an established rapport with the individuals and they know that my agenda is to deepen their skill. They are people I am rarely harsh with and both took it well. Why did I choose these two occasions? Well, both had a particular weakness in the area concerned and I wanted the lesson to endure. The businesses that employ them pay me well to upskill people and don't have the luxury of carrying lean leaders who selectively apply what they have learned. In terms of lean thinking, can you be a little bit pregnant?


I was reminded of Muraoka-san who, time and again, after pummelling me in a client plant via a sheepish interpreter would show tremendous concern about my eating and sleeping habits. Sometimes un-learning is painful. 


The harsh weather does indeed force the tree to root deep...as long as rain isn't the prevailing weather!


For further reading, Chapter 6 of my first book "Adventures in Leanland" lays out, word for word, how 5 lean coaching conversations ran their course. The contents table below shows the subjects and gives a flavour.


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