It’s no secret that the successful integration of lean results from management support and buy-in. I’m sure you’ve also heard that a “lean culture” must exist in order to sustain lean, but the question is, just what the heck is a “lean culture?” Well lean is often introduced at and through senior management, however to flourish and sustain, it must be carried forth by the people and for the people.
Every business initiative starts at the corporate level and gets transferred to the employees. If employees do not believe in or see how the initiative can help them, it will not be sustained, regardless of how many times leadership promotes or mentions the initiative.
How can you build sustained momentum through your employees? There are three distinct considerations.
If you haven’t spent the time determining what matters to employees, then you will be hard pressed to engage them in the long-term value of lean. This can be as simple as a president or CEO sitting with a cross section of employees to find out why they enjoy working at their company, or it can be more holistic by engaging the entire group in a discussion around their value perceptions. Despite having assessed their company “why” with their employees, it wasn’t until my client’s CEO met with nearly a dozen employees that they gained a crystal clear understanding of why employees enjoyed working at the business. With this information, they were prepared to make the connection to the value of lean for employees.
In every business, you can segment employees into three categories. Those who are content, those who are boisterous about their concerns and those who would be better off employed elsewhere. It’s unfortunate that most often, businesses focus the predominance of their effort and leadership time attempting to appease or reprimand the latter two groups. From a lean perspective, what they should be doing is focusing their energy on increasing the engagement of the former group — those that are somewhat content. To engage requires conversation and two-way communication. It is a means of ensuring other’s concerns or questions are heard and acted upon accordingly. By engaging content employees, we capture the engagement of a majority in the second group at minimum. As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
It’s not enough to communicate with employees, but something must be done with the information that is exchanged. Middle management often filters this information. To actually engage employees in any lean program, it’s important to break down barriers to communication, which means that middle management filters have to be identified and eliminated. Senior leaders have to continuously engage with employees to understand what their concerns are and how they are feeling about the progress being made to support them.
So you see, sustained momentum in lean is about more than culture; it is about building communication channels that facilitate two-way discussions, the results of which are action and progress. Anything less is simply another “flavor of the month” initiative and my guess is that’s exactly what you are trying to avoid.
This post was written by Shawn Casemore, founder and president of Casemore and Co. Incorporated, a consulting company helping organizations improve their operational performance. A recognized speaker and writer, you can learn more about Shawn and his company by visiting casemoreandco.com. To continue to learn more about the many concepts of LEAN or to talk with a consultant, please contact the LEAN Accountants of McKonly & Asbury, LLP.