Rant on Burning Platforms

Forgive me, but I have always struggled with the “burning platform” tactic as the catalyst for change in an organization.  Why would we choose a fear based, we “must run away from” mental model as an inspirational message for our front line employees?

Not long ago, I overheard a leader comment that they needed a burning platform to initiate a cultural change.  Really?  For those of you who know me, you can guess my response.  I suggested that we go to gemba where we might find more “burning platforms” (opportunities) than we could count.

We do not need to look far or long in most any healthcare organization today to readily find plenty of stress, confusion, politics, broken processes and overworked staff at every level of the organization.  We do not need to instill fear; it’s already there.  We do not need to ensure that we “run away from”; there is plenty of that already.  We do not need to tell our employees that if “we don’t do this, we will not survive”; they are barely surviving as it is.

What we do need to do is be honest and transparent about all that is broken; i.e. the terrible processes, policies, politics and roadblocks that hinder our employees each day. We need to demand standards, first of ourselves, in how we lead and improve each day.  We must consistently stop, reflect and learn.  We must leave our conference rooms and lead from the front i.e. in the gemba.   We must champion continuous experimentation to improve on behalf of our patients.

We don’t need to find any more burning platforms.  We need to honestly acknowledge and make visible the ones we already have.  We need to lead with an inspirational vision of waste free, best practice, highly reliable processes created by our front line employees on behalf of our patients.


6 thoughts on “Rant on Burning Platforms

  1. Great comments on burning platforms and fear-based leadership! If leaders are living in the gemba, I think that they usually find that their teams are usually trying to do their best to serve the customer. Our staff is chronically frustrated that they have to deal with road blocks, a lack of understanding and patience by leadership and often a lack of sponsorship for their change ideas. Shouldn’t the leader’s burning platform be spoken from what serves the customer and reflect what their people are trying to accomplish? Instead, those burning platforms are often more about layering on — or so it seems. I understand that sometimes we are far too inwardly focused and only concerned about maintaining our own fate and self-interest but this too, comes from a source of fear.

  2. And…
    Quite often in health care, our organizations are “us” centered, not patient centered. The burning platform is often a commentary on what it will take to get those that are being well served by the current system and have sufficient power within it to forestall change to see that their self-interest is better served by the change.

    Having said that, I agree with Karl. When you are in the gemba, and see how the current system is not serving patients or care givers well, it is very difficult to defend the status quo.

    1. Really appreciate all the comments! I think that we can agree that the burning platforms are alive and well for both the patients and care givers. Now we just have to get out of the office, go see and support the thinking that will extinguish the flames.

  3. Yes, yes, yes….couldn’t agree more with you, Eleanor and Kevin.
    Trying hard to do gembas and focus on listening…there is continued waste in processes even when they improve them since it takes discipline by all to keep making them better.

  4. Amen, brother. We need less fear, so that we can honestly look at what is broken, be hard on systems and not on people, and realize the untapped potential.

  5. Couldn’t agree more Karl. The old Command and Control methods of “ruling with fear” continue today in too many places. And unfortunately, it’s far easier to scare people than it is to Lead them.

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