In order to sustain and expand upon excellent operational performance, leadership has to commit to perpetual servant leadership and stewardship of the organizational processes and resources, which is inherent in the Strategy Deployment process.

To move an organization from poor performance to great performance requires two things:

  1. Overcoming the natural organizational antibodies to change, meaning changing existing mental models
  2. Addressing the 2nd law of thermodynamics, or the tendency of systems to maximize entropy, which requires purposeful, persistent, and practical leadership countermeasures.

Organizations that achieve the highest level of performance, can face certain decline unless leadership continuously monitors, supports, and improves operations. This is due to the 2nd law of thermodynamics which states that “all closed systems maximize entropy.”

The lesson is: to sustain and expand upon excellent Strategy Deployment performance, management has to commit to perpetual servant leadership and stewardship of organizational processes and resources; especially the most important resources: the employees.

Change the Mental Models

This is the first proven tenant of transformational change. As Albert Einstein, famously quoted: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.”

Mental models represent a person’s assumption, or mindset, about how things work. They are generally based on experiences, upbringing, and disposition. They affect how we see things and what we do, and underlie all management tools and systems.

Leaders define reality through their mental models, and communicate accordingly with their associates to achieve understanding, alignment, and to solve problems. Ensuring that leaders have the right mental models, or mindset, then is critical to ensuring that the operational transformation process will be successful.

Let’s review the five principles that are necessary to understand the mental model expectations that need to be set for both leaders and associates:

  1. Mutual trust and respect
  2. Involvement
  3. Teamwork
  4. Safety
  5. Equity – We’re all in this together

In a case study titled “How to Change a Culture”, (published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, January 2010), author John Shook writes about the transformation of an inefficient General Motors factory that became a highly successful Toyota/GM factory.

John shared the following observations about the Toyota Production System mental models:

  • Mutual Trust – The concept and feeling of membership was a powerful motivator
    • There was commitment that the last thing they will do is lay off employees; only as a last resort
    • As a result, real trust was developed between the company and employees, along with the motivation for employees to accept responsibility and take ownership.
    • Key: Employee motivation comes from assuring membership in the organization, rather than from buying and selling time, whatever the price tag.
  • Involvement, Teamwork, Safety, and Equity – Resulted from the commitment that we were all in this together
    • At Toyota, a worker’s immediate supervisor does not have the power to hire and fire.
    • The worker is hired by the company. He is an employee – a citizen, even – of the company, not of the individual who happens to be his supervisor today.
  • Get hands and feet moving, and hearts and minds will follow
    • The way to change culture is not to first change how people think, but instead changing what they do.
    • Cultural change starts by clarifying (consistent with the Strategy Deployment process):
      • The things to be accomplished
      • How the various roles are to interact
      • The process (PDCA) training necessary to improve processes
      • Then, doing what is necessary to reinforce the right behaviors.
    • This is what is meant by the statement: “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.” (John Shook)
  • Stop the Line – Give workers the means to successfully do their jobs
    • The “stop the line”, or andon, system epitomizes Toyota’s belief in, and commitment to, developing the means to enable employees to work in a way that “builds in” quality.
  • Respect for People – The conviction that all employees have the right to be successful every time they do their job.
    • Part of doing their job is finding problems and making improvements.
    • If management wants associates to be successful, to find problems, and to make improvements, then it also must provide the means to do so.
    • That translates into a promise from management to the work force: “Whenever you have a problem completing your standardized work, your team leader will come to your aid.”
  • The Essential Value of Problems
    • This is the ability to focus on solving problems without pointing fingers and looking to place the blame on someone.
    • Using the ‘five whys’ [which means simply asking “why?” until reaching the root cause of any problem, instead of the ‘five who’s’ responsible.
      • Call attention to the problem to solve it, or to the behavior to change it, not to the individual for being “wrong.”
    • Susumu Uchikawa, general manager of production control at Toyota, was often heard proclaiming “No problem is problem! The manager’s’ job is to see problems!”

Footnote: John Shook is an industrial anthropologist who became intimately familiar with NUMMI and the Toyota Production System when he became the first American manager at Toyota’s headquarters in Japan in 1983, and was assigned to a newly formed group at the company’s Toyota City headquarters in Japan to develop and deliver training programs to support its impending overseas expansion. The link to the John’s complete article is provided here: How To Change A Culture.

Leadership Countermeasures

The second half of transformational change is leadership countermeasures, necessary to stave off the tendency of systems to maximize entropy (the 2nd law of thermodynamics).

When Susumu Uchikawa stated that that “no problem is a problem, and that the manager’s job is to see problems”, what he was really pointing out was that an operating system left unattended will most certainly unravel. The unraveling normally starts as a loose thread that begins to show. However, if not addressed that loose thread may rapidly result in the whole garment unraveling.

So, within the two prongs of Strategy Deployment, planning and operations, leadership diligence is essential. As John Shook described based upon his experience with Toyota and NUMMI, cultural change and sustenance requires constant leadership attention to the following:

  1. The things that are to be accomplished
    1. The aim of the system and the cascading strategies, initiatives, and process measures.
    2. Follow-up on necessary process countermeasures to keep the strategic plan and execution of the plan on track
  2. How the various roles are to interact?
    1. The effective communication flywheel, the catch-ball process, the daily huddles, the weekly operational rounding, and so forth
  3. The process (PDCA) training necessary to improve processes
    1. Engaging associates in practical learnings regarding how to sustain and continually improve upon all value-creating processes
  4. Then, doing what is necessary to reinforce the right behaviors
    1. Supporting “stop-the-line” actions, and functioning as a servant leader to support those who are directly responsible for customer first, zero defect performance.
    2. As the chairman of Toyota, Fujio Cho, said: “Go see, ask why, and show respect.”


In summary, to move from poor performance, or even from good performance, to great performance requires two things:

  1. Adopting the right mental models to create a culture of:
    1. Mutual trust and respect
    2. Involvement
    3. Teamwork
    4. Safety
    5. Equity – Validating that we’re all in this together
  2. Constantly initiating purposeful, persistent, and practical leadership countermeasures to ensure:
    1. The right things are being accomplished
    2. All roles are interacting in the most productive fashion
    3. Continuous improvement becomes the norm
    4. Right behaviors are being reinforced.

Do that, and transformational change will take root and flourish in your organization as well.

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