Wednesday 4 March 2020

KM and Hansei, where "no problem" becomes a problem

Effective learning within an organisation requires consistent and rigorous self-analysis, in order to pick up learning points and points of improvement. In Japan, this process is known as Hansei.

Hansei, by Jim O'Neil, on Flickr
Although alien to many in the west, Hansei is an important part of the Japanese culture. Han means “change” and Sei means “to review”, so the whole thing means “introspection” or “reflection for the purposes of change”.  This translates into a behaviour , instilled from childhood, of looking for mistakes, admitting responsibility, and implementing change.(When Japanese children do something wrong, for example, they are scolded and are told: hansei shinasai - Do hansei!).

Hansei can become very public, as the footage of the crying Toyota CEO shows. As a response to poor safety performance, the CEO admitted responsibility, apologised, promised change, and wept - behaviour lauded in Japan but deemed strange in the West. In the West we would probably avoid responsibility, deny the mistake as "fake news", and insult our detractors.

Hansei is at the heart of Kaizen - the "learning from experience" approach seen in Japanese industry. It may part of the reason why Japanese companies succeed so well at Kaizen as a core component of Knowledge Management, while other cultures struggle. Where a European company might see lesson-learning as a witch-hunt, for example, a Japanese company would see it as a way to put right the embarrassment of self-acknowledged failure. Where a US company might fear a blame culture, Hansei means that individuals already accept any blame and if they fear anything, they fear the lack of ability to make restitution.

How do we develop Hansei?

In non-Japanese cultures we have not been brought up with Hansei. Seeing our leaders accepting full responsibility for mistakes and sincerely, with emotion, promising change is something exceedingly rare (name me one example!).  However this is a behaviour we would dearly love to promote at work, so that mistakes are not hidden, but lead to learning and change.

So here are six things we can do to begin to develop Hansei behaviours.

1. We can understand the current culture, and recognise the barriers. One of the 10 cultural barriers is defensiveness - an unwillingness to take responsibility and examine your mistakes. Our cultural assessment service allows you to see whether this is a major barrier in your own organisation.

2. We can build reflection into the work process. After Action Review, for example, is a Kaizen activity that can be embedded into the working pattern, to trigger reflection and change on a regular basis.

3. We can adopt no-blame learning processes. The Retrospect is widely recognised as a no-blame lesson-learning process for use at the end of projects or project stages. The open questioning within the Retrospect gives people the opportunity to examine what went wrong, and to suggest how this might be improved.

4. We can ask the team leader to set the tone. If we are concerned about lack of openness in a Retrospect, we can work with the team leader before hand to identify an area where they can openly admit to making a mistake, and explore how to avoid this happening again. When the leader sets the tone, the rest of the team may follow.

5. We can ensure all learnings lead to action. We must make sure that everyone present in a Retrospect or After Action review can see that their admissions, introspections and lessons will lead to action. Lessons will not just rot away in overstuffed databases, but become embedded in changes to process. Knowing that your mistakes can be turned into successes for others can make Retrospects into something like group therapy. This is the positive outcome of Hansei.

6. We can become intolerant of complacency. Another of the 10 cultural elements, complacency is the feeling that "we did alright, there was no problem, we don't need to change anything".  Here is what the Toyota website says about "no problem":
"Even if a task is completed successfully, Toyota recognises the need for a hansei-kai, or reflection meeting; a process that helps to identify failures experienced along the way and create clear plans for future efforts. An inability to identify issues is usually seen as an indication that you did not stretch to meet or exceed expectations, that you were not sufficiently critical or objective in your analysis, or that you lack modesty and humility. Within the Hansei process, no problem is itself a problem".

This type of thinking - where "no problem" is seen as symptom of a lack of introspection and a lack of analysis, and something to challenge rather than to feel smug about - may be what separates the  true learning cultures from the also-rans.

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