An Appreciation for Common Sense

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Shawn Casemore: Common sense is not as common as you might think.

A client recently asked me if I thought lean was right for his business. I said, “That depends on if you appreciate common sense, or if you attribute success to complexity and compartmentalization.”

An abrasive response, possibly. The truth, absolutely.

Lean is about creating value. However, the approach to obtaining value is as important as the final destination. How improvements are identified and introduced will determine whether they sustain or falter. Show me a “change” introduced without input and ideas from employees, and I will show you a less-than-stellar outcome of that very change.

You don’t need a Kaizen event, for example, to assess how a process might be improved. You simply need to start with those who support, are involved with or are affected by the process to fully understand what challenges, concerns, inefficiencies and obstacles exist.

In essence there are always opportunities to improve business performance without investing in a full-blown lean initiative as long as the workplace culture (leadership, employees, suppliers and board members) have an appreciation for common sense.

If this sounds like your company or business unit, I would challenge you to consider the following ideas to help you introduce a more pragmatic approach to solidifying incremental and meaningful improvement.

What do your employees perceive will help them do their jobs more effectively or efficiently? I don’t mean this as a general question, but is there an area that you believe is not operating as effectively as possible? If so, you need to obtain intelligent intelligence.  

Try having one-on-one discussions with your employees to obtain their views on what needs to change and why. Concentrate on understanding their views and avoid challenging or negotiating. Listen, learn and understand their perspectives.

It’s one thing to have forthright conversations with employees about what needs to change, but that time spent is worthless if you don’t actually do something with the information you receive. Write down their comments, understand the details, validate any points that are unclear, and most importantly, review the outcome of discussions with employees.  

“During our recent discussions, you told me that the layout of our shipping area is poor. I would like to ask for volunteers to work together to identify specifically what should be improved so that we can improve this area.” Your employees need a voice, and you are the conduit.

A recent study by McKinsey found that 70 percent of all transformational change initiatives fail. My experience has been that failure rate is closer to 80 percent. However, this percentage of failure drops dramatically when action exists. Once employees have been engaged in identifying obstacles or opportunities, failure to take rapid and powerful action on any suggestions they make will result in both a loss of momentum in the change initiative and a complete loss of their trust. Actions speak volumes over words.

Despite the mysterious cloud that can surround the introduction and application of lean, in reality the methodology is built around applying common sense, and common sense is often not as common as you might think.

How soon can you engage with your employees to identify what needs to change? The outcomes will be significantly more powerful than any time you need to invest, and the interest and engagement of your employees will grow as a result.

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, Incorporated, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. Learn more at or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.