Are you a Lean Specialist .. possibly even a Six Sigma black belt (or some colour in between) and have delivered programs in Manufacturing or Logistics or even Healthcare in the workplace? Have you been frustrated by the lack of interest by employees and wondered why they don’t just do it? After all, it makes so much sense and will achieve all the targets and goals and KPI’s we want. So, why is it that it is almost impossible to get the employees on the factory floor to have the level of interest we think they should have? Why do we get so much resistance even if this program is FREE ??? And let’s face it, almost all Lean programs being delivered here in Australia are through a government funded program so almost always cost neutral.
I admit that not all of the many Lean programs I have run were wildly successful like I hoped they would be. Some have worked out great after the second or third run at it. Few took off right away but most slipped back into the old routine. So I do what all good coaches do. I ask what I could have done better. Where can I improve? But if I leave it there, it will always be about me and there must be more to this. So I ask other facilitators, do some research (no, not just Google) and see if I can uncover the real truth behind these so-called “Lean” programs. I will share with you what I have discovered .. and it is really short and simple.
- Companies that have taken it upon themselves to improve from an internal process by forming teams that discuss what they need/want to do and then actioning who will take on new skills and knowledge have a very high degree of success implementing a form of Lean.
- Interesting side note here is that these companies almost never implement Lean in the form of the “Toyota” model, or the Motorola Model but rather something that works for them in the way it makes sense to them. These situations also often eliminate terms and words that are not used in the Australian society, like Kaizen, or KanBan or Gemba. That have decided that they will create something that is relevant to its people.
- Companies that bring in outside trainers, facilitators, coaches have a high degree of failure the first time they attempt “Lean”. I have observed this occurs even when the company has used the Best Lean Guru they could find. These same companies, from my observations, often never try this again and soon after this attempt the business is either sold, shut down or forced to close down.
- Side note here is that most of these companies are found to have, what they call “bad employees” that have hurt the company. The reality is that these companies have lost their purpose for being in business in the first place and without purpose, there can be no passion. No Lean training will create purpose. This needs to come from the top .. the leader of the company. The person that inspires their people. The Steve Jobs that inspires the people (or at least the person that can tell the story of the passion that started the business and the passion that kept it going all these years). Without this strong Purpose and Leadership, forcing improvements through training will have some benefit never seems to be sustained since the people do not care enough to sustain these improvements.
Why does Lean talk have such a negative effect on people?
Let’s explore some common Lean phrases:
We need to more with less
If you are an employee and you are told you are going to be given less, but we require you to do more, how would you react?
Perfect Quality and Zero Defects and Seek Perfection
Ok, this is great. I am on the shop floor and am told that I need to perfect all the time and never make a mistake.
Eliminate non-value added activity
Most often people do not understand what value is in the first place and when they hear this they think that they will never be able to have a rest… much like do more with less.
So where does this leave us? How can we make use of the great potential benefits of the Lean methodologies?
The first step, in my opinion, is clear. Let’s start with what we know works. Every thriving business has a clear PURPOSE. Something everyone can relate to. Simon Sinek has done a great job of defining this as the “WHY”. Why are you in the first place and WHY should anyone care? Every single business is made up of people. These people need to willing work together because they want to. They need to feel there is a cause they feel is greater than them and certainly greater than some of the small issue that holds back innovation and continuous improvement. Working for a company to earn money is uninspiring and, well … boring. But if the company you are working for support a cause you believe in (or if you didn’t before you do now) or if the leader simply inspires you to be a better person, and if the ownership and management actually care about you as a person, you have no choice but to feel inspired back.
It really is about bringing your people together so they can feel connected to something that inspires them, and then getting the hell out of their way to do great work.
The next step, as company leaders, is we must have the skills and knowledge and abilities to do our work to excellence. The company must be willing to invest in its people. Not once off, but ongoing. As part of how business is done. Give people the ability to become greater than they are now. Let them know you will support them to grow and learn. If you are a parent you know the feeling of being willing to do anything for you kids so they can become anything they want to. When your kids find something they love doing, we are willing to sacrifice so much just to help them succeed. We do this because 1)because we love our kids unconditionally, but also 2) because we would like to feel we have succeeded as parents and if our kids do well. It is this same approach we need to take into the workplace with our employees. The business will only be successful if your employees make it so. The fact is they hold all the power so the best way to use that power to achieve what everyone wants.
Do we need to teach everyone the technicalities of Lean?
My answer is no. We need to ensure all the tools are there and everyone knows how to use them (ie, problem-solving tools, 5 why etc) but what people on the factory floor really value is often very easy to deliver and if we care as much about our internal customers as we do about our external ones. we will do what we need to, to understand what is important to them.
I believe that if a person is self-motivated enough to want to work their way into upper management, then they need earn that position based on skill set and abilities, not on their tenure with the company. Too often people are promoted up because they have been with the company for a long time rather than their ability to manage people. The fact is, the farther up the company ladder a person climbs, the more it is about influencing, inspiring and leading your people and less about any technical abilities. Emotional Intelligence needs to be taught and developed.
I also believe people in upper management positions should have a solid understanding of Lean so that they can help inspire their people in the right direction when needed. A combination of technical understanding of Business combined with a superior ability to inspire, influence, teach and lead creates a confident and successful Manager Leader.
How is this different than any other Lean Implementation?
Once we ensure there is a cause.. a purpose of working for, we find people look for solutions on their own. They do this because their passion drives them and for doing so whereas in the past they needed to be told to do things. We also need to have Leaders that have the proper skills and knowledge to be able to help their people achieve what they need to and want to.