In Search of Metrics.


Persuading people to trade French fries and doughnuts for kale and quinoa is much easier said than done. Market researchers in the food industry have long known that people often say they will eat healthier or exercise more but never get around to it.

The New York Times reports that participation in workplace weight management programs is surprisingly low, especially given the incidence of obesity and the fact that the programs free to employees. Despite people's best intentions, it's hard for them to change long-established behaviors.

As a result, some companies are beginning to look at more innovative methods to improve worker health (and lower health care costs). I.B.M., for example, provides rebates on health insurance premiums for completing online programs in physical activity, nutrition and preventive care, along with online support groups and monitoring. At Safeway, employees can save up to $800 on their health care contributions.

Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents large employers on health care matters, says that

A lot of us have piles in our homes and our offices that we’ll get to when we can, and changing how you eat is often a bit like that. I don’t think you could possibly overestimate how hard this stuff is.

And that made me think: why is it so tough for people to apply 5S to the information they manage? Why is it so tough for them to change work habits (e.g., not checking email all the time, using the calendar as a kanban to drive their activity, etc.) to improve the flow of the value streams in which they work? And it hit me: there's no support for these changes. In fact, the organizational inertia to keep doing things the same way fights against any effort to change.

So how can you create supports for these changes? Extrinsic incentives -- financial or otherwise -- are not a terribly good idea, as Mark Graban, John Hunter, and others (including me) have pointed out numerous times. The willingness to look for problems and the desire for kaizen has to be intrinsic.

Perhaps the answer is measurement. Maybe the key to this kind of improvement is in finding clearly understood metrics that can make the waste visible. But what are those measurements? I have some ideas that I'll share later, but I'd like to hear your thoughts. Please let me know what metrics you'd use to sustain lean in the office.

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