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Saturday, June 6, 2015

#HCsummit15: a cautionary coda

I have just returned from witnessing two days of exuberance at #HCsummit15. The talent and enthusiasm and clear thinking are inspiring. A lot to reflect upon. I will soon be citing excerpts from John Toussaint's new book. There's no Kindle edition (yet), so I'll be firing up my Dragon headset once I've finished reading.

May we all continue to Keep Our Eyes On the Prize. The simple, humble "religion"** of Lean, not a Branded Business about Lean®.
** Well, didn't take long for me to get busted on Twitter for using the word "religion" instead of "science" in the context of Lean methodology. As a (small 'a') atheist (more of a "Possibilian," actually) who trained in forensic laboratory science in the 80's, I understand the difference, trust me. Merely a metaphor proffered "heretically" within the 140 character Twitter constraint. My Bad. But, if you want to further nit-pick the pedantics, I'm hardly the first person to approvingly use the phrase "Lean Evangelist."

I hate to mark up my hardcover books. Many times I buy the Kindle editions as well, and mark those up electronically. But, "The Power of Management on the Mend Compels Me," inveterate, impatient student that I am, so my copy is now awash with stickies and yellow highlighter.

Exigent circumstances.

BTW, interesting Atlantic article:

The end of capitalism has often been imagined as a crisis of epic proportions. Perhaps a financial crisis will occur that is so vast not even government finances can rescue the system. Maybe the rising anger of exploited individuals will gradually congeal into a political movement, leading to revolution. Might some single ecological disaster bring the system to a halt? Most optimistically, capitalism might be so innovative that it will eventually produce its own superior successor, through technological invention...
Brings to mind my May 22nd post "The Robot will see you now."

Continuing with "All the Happy Workers,"
Few private-sector managers are required to negotiate with unions any longer, but nearly all of them confront a much trickier challenge, of dealing with employees who are regularly absent, unmotivated, or suffering from persistent, low-level mental-health problems. Resistance to work no longer manifests itself in organized voice or outright refusal, but in diffuse forms of apathy and chronic health problems...
I don't think this is an issue in any of the Lean organizations I witnessed presenting this week in Dallas. I guess I'll be buying this book (cover below, cited in the article) as well, just to glean any possible useful lessons learned.

Again, from "All the Happy Workers,"
This [happiness] consultancy circuit moves seamlessly among various apparently separate domains of expertise. The psychology of motivation blends into the physiology of health, drawing occasionally on insights from sports coaches and nutritionists, to which is added a cocktail of neuroscientific rumors and Buddhist meditation practices. Various notions of fitness, happiness, positivity, and success bleed into one another, with little explanation of how or why. The idea which accompanies all of this is that there is one ideal form of human existence: hardworking, happy, healthy and, above all, rich. A science of elite perfectibility is built on the back of this heroic capitalist vision. The flip side of this, and the real driving force behind many executive wellness programs, is a set of well-researched risks run by highly competitive businessmen, colloquially known as “burn-out,” which includes higher chances of heart attacks, strokes, and nervous breakdowns.

Of course, the majority of adults living in capitalist societies lie somewhere between the purview of Atos et al. and that of the executive wellness gurus. Is there no scope for a less individualized vision of well-being across the middle swath of the labor market? Possibly there is. But here too are some brutally competitive injunctions offered to those managers worrying about worker disengagement and its impact upon productivity...
The importance of employee happiness and psychological engagement becomes all the greater once corporations are in the business of selling ideas, experiences, and services. Businesses speak of “intangible assets” and “human capital” in the hope of capturing this amorphous workplace ethos, but in practice it is nothing which resembles either an asset or capital. Some other way of conceiving of work is required...
It's a long read. Give it a go, see what you think. Are there solutions in Lean? Married up with "Just Culture"?


The conclusion of "All The Happy Workers"
The political hope that perhaps the human benefits of dialogue and workplace empowerment might be more thoroughly recognized turns into disappointment, as performance management and health care are fused into a science of well-being optimization. And yet there are radical political economists for whom the de-materialization of contemporary work represents an opportunity for a whole new industrial model. The shift towards a “knowledge-based” economy, in which ideas and relationships are key sources of business value, could be the basis of entirely new workplace structures in which power is decentralized and decisions taken collaboratively.

There are good reasons to suspect that such models might produce fewer psychosomatic stresses; in that sense, they may be more efficient than the status quo. If dialogue in the workplace is a necessary factor for productivity, why not grant it some real influence over how decisions get made, right up to the highest level? Rather than ironic management speak, which twists words to manipulate emotions in the expectation that this will yield greater output, a more honest reflection on the problems of occupational ill-health would question the hoarding of status and reward by a small number of senior managers. Instead, traditional forms of management and hierarchy are rescued by the new ubiquity of digital surveillance, which allows informal behavior and communication to be tracked, analyzed and managed.

Rather than the rise of alternative corporate forms, we are now witnessing the discreet return of the scientific management style, only now with even greater scientific scrutiny of bodies, movement, and performance. The front line in worker performance evaluation has shifted into bodily-monitoring devices, heart-rate monitoring, and sharing of real-time health data, for analysis of stress risks. Strange to say, the notion of what represents a good worker has gone full circle since the 1870s, from the origins of ergonomic fatigue studies, through psychology, psychosomatic medicine and back to the body once more. Perhaps the managerial cult of optimization just needs something tangible to cling onto.
A resurgent "Taylorism 2.0"? Really? (It's happening in Amazon warehouses and in Walmarts.) How do we advocates of Lean respond?
"The shift towards a “knowledge-based” economy, in which ideas and relationships are key sources of business value, could be the basis of entirely new workplace structures in which power is decentralized and decisions taken collaboratively."
Indeed, and this is central to the essence of the Lean transformation. But, we ought heed the admonitions contained both in the closing paragraphs of this article and in Simon Head's book "Mindless," no?


A recent post on The Health Care Blog.

My comment, and a response.


More to come...

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