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Sep 26, 2014

Reflecting On Yourself: Doing the Hansei 反省

Self Reflection

By Colin D. Baird
Hansei is a Japanese term for self reflection. Hansei-kai is time set aside to help individuals and organizations look deeply within themselves to understand the outcomes from specific improvement efforts. They comprise the Check function of the Plan, Do , Check, Act (PDCA)  improvement cycle developed by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Each is effective when used to improve the Man portion of  the 4m's. (Man, Method, Machine, and Material). Of the 4M's, nothing is more important than improving man and the culture in which he works. This leads to active employee cooperation in improving business process, quality, and on time delivery.  In return, man's lost self esteem, and dignity can be restored because their contribution in improving the business matters to him.

Cisco Systems is known globally for their ability to connect people. Ironically, in 2001 their culture had become disconnected. They relied heavily on a handful of executives to make decisions that impacted the entire organization. In addition they faced a potentially fatal crisis since the economy was injured, and the days of the tech bubble were gone. As a result, executives had to fight for the corporation's existence. This led CEO John Chambers to re-examine his own failings. By doing so, he realized the concentration of executive power within a few in an organization of 38,000 had effectively disabled communications, contributions, and cooperation throughout the rest of the company.

Executives who wanted to retain their individual power found its loss painful. In addition, during the Hansei-kai, individual failings, and negative contributions to the culture had to become very personal. Executives were asked to provide clarity about what behaviors they would not repeat in the future. Many Americans are not used to such inward reflection,  and fingers invariably got pointed during this period. While this conflicted with the purpose of the Japanese use of the Hansei, it probably reflects what many executives in America today have unfortunately become accustomed to.

So what have the results yielded so far? Online reviews in 2014  of employees unfiltered comments confirm improvements have largely been sustained. Sustaining positive organizational change yet having a culture that recognizes one can always do better is difficult. Mr. Chambers is well respected by employees and peers, and is the 5th longest standing CEO in tech history. Individual, and corporate failures are shared without fear of retribution, and viewed as opportunities for improvement. Self reflection has enabled Cisco to focus on customer value using contributions from employees to accomplish their goals. They have even set up a consulting business to help other businesses transform themselves. Command and control architecture is gone. So are 80% of the executives who preferred the old leadership style.

PDCA can be used for organizational improvement, but it's important to understand the process..  The Plan phase requires specific objectives, and plans be established for what is going to be accomplished during Kaizen (1). In the Do phase, ideas are tested  in small samplings.  During Check, regular Hansei-kai events are conducted to compare failings and successes of the new plan against those done in planning. If outcomes are not as expected, more Hansei is conducted, and the cycle of PDCA repeats itself.  Once outcomes can be proven statistically,  they can be introduced on a broader basis in the Act phase.

What organizational development and process related tool can best help CEO's use to implement Hansei, and Hansei-kai?

The Military's After Action Review (AAR) * 2

AAR is used by the United States Military, and many others in leadership today. It tends to gain more acceptance when an organization's culture is already viewed by employees as a personal learning environment, accepting of one's failures, and comfortable learning from the criticism of others. The critical aspect of the AAR is not intended to confront an individual's failures, but rather to help them learn more rapidly. In Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline, he discusses the importance of not letting the tool remain sterile since it is intended to be one of continuous use in the PDCA process to refine and improve learning. Frequent use also prevents cultures from reverting back to their old ways.

Critical self analysis is a key to improvement, but is difficult in America's traditional win-lose, and competitive organizational structure. Conducting the Hansei to reflect upon failures in one's life, and organizational development can help offset some of these natural cultural tendencies. While the Japanese have built regular Hansei into their lives, Americans have not. Because of this, executives may find its purpose difficult to understand, and mimic. However, if it can become a routine part of process improvement, it will c help others improve.

*1 see

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