Friday Rant: Tool Heads

You've probably met them. They know the real Japanese words that start with "S" in 5S. They can rearrange your workspace to improve the flow. They know how to use design of experiments and the difference between a Z-test and a t-test. They love continuous improvement tools. They're eager to fix your workplace problems. You know them. They're the tool heads. And they want to train you to become a tool head, too.

Not that it's a bad thing to have people who are well-trained in how to use lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement tools. It is generally a very good thing. But tool heads love their tools. And they sometimes forget that you need more than tools to solve problems and improve the workplace. Tools alone can't bring about change. People can. And people must understand why change is necessary and buy in, otherwise they will resist.

And that's where the tool heads can go wrong. They think that if they are well-versed in the tools, there is no problem that they can't solve. In fact, they often prefer to solve your problems for you rather than involving you in the solution. They might even move you out of the way or work around you so that they can apply a tool in your area. Dealing with people is messy. Tools are neater.

Tool heads can get mired in the tools and focus on the trivial many instead of the vital few, often missing the big picture. Tool heads are rarely strategic thinkers. Many individual problems may get solved, but the overall issues don't get addressed. Small processes may get optimized, but the overall business process may be sub-optimized. Culture and behaviors stay the same, as applying tools doesn't address cultural and behavioral issues. Tool heads take the adage about "changing the things they can" too seriously. Problem is, they can't change the people and would prefer not to have to deal with the people. So they work around them or in spite of them.

When implementing change, it's all about people and their buying into and accepting change. It can't be done for them or around them. It must be done through them. Change is not real or sustainable with a tools approach. After the tool heads have used their tools, the resistors and the gremlins of the status quo will put things back the way they were.

- Sherry Gordon

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