Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ralph Waldo Emerson: How to Make LEAN Important

Let me start with the idea that people want to get caught doing what they think is important to their boss. Whatever that is, we want to always be doing it. If looking busy is important to the boss, you'd better believe folks will make sure they look busy when he/she comes around. If firefighting is valued, then people will make sure that the boss knows that I just helped save the day from near disaster. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think we can agree the reason most companies struggle to implement a lean strategy is simply because it's just not all that important. To the boss. Humans aren't stupid. If the boss doesn't demonstrate, not just say, that lean is important, people will catch on really quickly. "Yeah, lean this, lean that, blah, blah, blah, now let's get back to work."

At least that is what I learned first hand in my own company when I kicked off our lean journey (green mile/trip through hell). When we started, other than some classes and kaizen events, my work day remained pretty much unchanged. You know, I managed my emails, my computer, sat in meetings, travelled to customers and suppliers and did some lean when I had some time. Consequently, progress was slow and people just didn't seem to be getting it. I found myself getting more and more frustrated! "What's the matter with these people? Don't they get it?

Then my Sensei at the time told me something brilliant. "If your job remains unchanged, then your lean efforts will fail." Now I never claimed to be smart, but it made sense to me, so I started WALKING THE TALK. It wasn't really that hard because my 70 person company was struggling at the time. There was definitely a sense of urgency to improve. 

Once people saw me checking in and asking open ended questions, spending time learning about people's processes, working hands on to build a spirit of kaizen, well.....bingo. They started to do what they thought was important to the boss.

I think Emerson was right.


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