Wednesday, December 7, 2016

True North

One of the primary tenets of Toyota and Lean is the pursuit of perfection. That is even the motto for the Lexus brand.

But what does that mean to you, in your practice, with your staff and your clients? What would your practice, in all of its aspects, look like if it was ideal or perfect?  

Forget that perfection is never reached,  This is why Lean is a journey, not a destination.  

What would pet care look like if it were perfect?  What would client satisfaction look like? What would your staff look like if they were able to do work in an ideal way? Challenged? Problem solvers?  Engaged? Continually learning and improving? What  would the physical property look like? In a perfect scenario, would you be helping to improve your profession, your community, or your tiny piece of this world? Write all of this down. This your “true north” statement.

Note that a “true north” statement is not the same as a “ mission”  or a “vision” statement.

“We practice to the best of our ability to help pets have full and healthy lives. We will treat our clients fairly while, at the same time, being fiscally responsible in order to sustain our practice and provide our staff with quality of life and continued employment.”

The first problem with most of these statements are they are too vague. What does “full and healthy” mean? What is “fair?” What is “fiscal responsibility?” What is “quality of life?”

The second problem is once they are written, they are immediately paraded on our websites, printed on our practice brochures, and then promptly forgotten. Can you recite your “mission” statement? Can any of your staff?  

I had a “mission” statement, because that was what the “gurus” said I should do in order to be a progressive manager. Do I remember it? No. Was it a “living” document that defined where I was trying to get on a daily basis? No. Did it define and shape every decision I made? No. Did it give direction to my staff in their improvement efforts? No. What improvement efforts?

A “True North” statement is much more of a “working” document, just as our Constitution and Bill of Rights are “working” documents of ideals that guide our laws and policies. A true north statement generally encompasses the four to six areas of your practice that will form your core, long term goals.

For example, “Patient Care”, “Client Satisfaction”, “Employee Development”, “Fiscal Improvement” and “Community Involvement.” These categories or “focus areas” are not necessarily written in stone. They may change from year to year, but this should be a rarity. Also, one or two additional categories can be added from time to time on a shorter term basis. But, do not let the number get too large as to be unmanageable and overwhelming.

Each of these focus areas usually has a small number of Key Performance Indicators. Note that “key” means two, or three, or maybe four measures that help you gauge your progress and the health of the organization.

It is from these focus areas that one year, five year and ten year strategies and improvement activity plans are developed, all attempting to get closer to your concept of perfection, your “True North.” Note: I mean “yours, “ not the practice down the street or some DVM/MBA in another state or country.  Remember, Lean is about making “your” practice the best ”your” practice it can be, not somebody else's idea of a “cookie cutter” imitation of their model.

For example, suppose senior management decided that for the next year, what we implement for “Employee Development” will be cross-training the staff so that they are capable of covering other positions in times of need or to cover multiple positions within a value stream in order to improve flow. Staff takes it from here. They know best what that should look like at the gemba and they can best work out the schedule. They can decide on the metrics best suited to monitor this process and create the visual management charts so everyone can tell where in the journey the effort is in real time.

The areas of concentration within each category are then introduced to the leads and staff. It is the staff, through a process of nemawashi or consensus (I will explain these terms in a forthcoming blog) building with coworkers and management, that determine the specific projects they feel are a priority based on their experience at the gemba. This process is hansen kanri or strategy deployment, a topic of a future post.

Thanks for stopping by. Please let us know what you think. We haven’t reached perfection, yet.