Lean starts with the need to achieve

Originally published at The Lean Post.

McClelland’s Theory of Needs contends each individual is motivated by a combination of three needs: achievement, power, and affiliation.

Need for achievement. People high in this need have an intense desire to succeed in meeting challenging goals. They want to get the job done quickly and well. These people may falter when a challenge is not available.

Need for power. People high in this need are eager to control the actions and behaviors of others.

Need for affiliation. People high in this need have an elevated desire to be liked and accepted. They want to work with their friends.

Visualize each employee with a cup of needs. Each person’s cup will contain all three needs to some extent. Some cups will have a large amount of one need, others will have equal amounts of all three. Some cups will have high levels of two needs and a small amount of the third. Many combinations are possible.

In a sweatshop economy, a manager with a high power need is required. In a lean environment, a leader with a high achievement need is mandatory. A sweatshop manager does not want to work with friends. A kaizen leader does, so she will have a good chunk of the affiliation need in her cup.

Here is an example of the interaction between the need to achieve and the need to exert power in an organization:

All the lab techs told lab management the pH meter was not giving accurate results. Lab management’s only response was, “It is the responsibility of each lab technician to calibrate the pH meter before use.” So most lab techs began adding extra citric acid to one of the products to get the pH in spec.

The lab supervisor and manager then assumed all the production techs had suddenly started weighing the citric acid incorrectly. They were sure all of their lab instruments worked flawlessly. A lab tech suggested that the team make a control sample in the lab to compare the production sample to and to keep each production sample to determine if the pH changed after the meter was recalibrated. The lab manager rejected these ideas. The only acceptable fix was for each lab tech to calibrate the pH meter before use.

Finally, a temporary lab tech called the pH meter manufacturer and asked for help. He learned that the probe should be washed with soap and water after every use. After the lab techs began doing this, the pH meter worked flawlessly again. No extra acid was needed.

When the plant manager became aware of the situation, lab management claimed they were never informed of any problems with the pH meter.

As you can imagine, the lab manager and supervisor had high power needs. They just wanted the job to get done and little to no interest in real problem-solving. The lab tech who called the pH meter manufacturer and the lab tech who wanted to use control samples had high achievement needs. They wanted to do the task correctly. They wanted to address the problem.

Soon after this particular incident this company embarked on their lean journey. The power brokers led the initiative, which meant the company’s transformation never really had a chance. Those with a high power need will insist again and again that everything is fine, no changes are necessary. They don’t like employees who rock the boat.

So in my experience, the first step in a lean implementation is to identify employees with an intense desire to achieve. Find those people who are already practicing lean, whether they know it or not, by being willing to see and engage with problems. To find people with a high achievement need, ask your employees for a list of prior achievements and suggestions. These are your MVPs and future kaizen leaders. They are your ticket to a successful lean journey.

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