The English language can be confounding. For example, the word turkey is slang for “a person considered inept or undesirable” while the idiom cold turkey describes the actions of one who abruptly gives up a habit rather than through gradual change. Finally, talking turkey means “to discuss a problem in a serious way with a real intention to solve it.” For the upcoming holiday, let me frame these idioms in terms that are very important to the social science of Lean. First the turkey’s:
A long time ago, after a short stint as a materials manager, I was promoted to vice president of manufacturing. It was, in fact, my good fortune to enter production knowing nothing about it, lest I might have fancied myself an expert. Instead, I relied on people who were already there to help me learn. Having begun my career in the ‘creative’ world of marketing, a block away from the factory, I had previously been given to believe that manufacturing was ‘cut and dry’; a repetitive, mindless environment. What I soon discovered after my promotion, however, was that the production floor was filled with innovative if not spiteful employees who managed to build products despite errors in drawings and bills of material, despite malfunctioning equipment and despite a lack of respect for the irons they pulled out of the fire everyday. When I shared my early concerns with other managers I was cautioned not to spend too much time with malcontents from the factory floor.
I was floored. “What are these guys thinking?” I asked my welding supervisor, Lenny, as I related the malcontent story. He gave me wry smile and replied, “You’re heading in the right direction. Don’t get discouraged.” I thanked him and thought to myself, “This is different. I’m the manager and he’s coaching me.” Later in the week, I found a gift on my desk (the coffee cup above) from an anonymous friend. The thought and particularly the background behind it helped me through a few struggles.
Now for the idiom cold turkey. This is a model referred to in the Lean world as “blitz kaizen,” a big, sudden change.” These events are typically characterized by major layout changes. Machines and people are moved close together to facilitate material and information flow – both great objectives. Problem is, the machines are fine as objects of improvement. We can push them around as often as we like. Not so much with people. We struggle with change even when it’s self-initiated, and we really don’t like being pushed around. We like to be the agents of change, the innovators, not the objects. Our habits don’t change on a dime. Gradual, continuous improvement works better for us than cold turkey.
If we want to engage “everybody everyday” we need to talk turkey to get the root cause of real problems – especially managers. Recently during a factory tour at potential customer, a manager proudly shared his huddle board strategy with me: “We require each department to identify and solve a problem every day”, he said, “just like your slogan “everybody everyday.”
Gazing at the huddle board I asked an employee, “How important are the problems on your huddle board?” Her reply: “Sometimes they’re important, but one way or another we have find a problem to solve every day.” “How’s that working for you?” I asked. “Okay,” she responded tentatively, “but we seem to have more problems than solutions.” Seemed like they were counting problems not solutions – not talking turkey.
Finally, for the holiday I want to share a frivolous clip that was the inspiration for this idiomatic post: me talking to a turkey. Just a reminder that to everyone that we all need to lighten up some times and be grateful for the good people in our lives. To all my Lean friends, Happy Thanksgiving.