A Lean Journey: Not for the Faint of Heart

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Shawn Casemore

By Shawn Casemore

Introducing (and sustaining) lean requires a commitment, the road to which is full of highs and lows.  The highs are easy to take, but the lows challenge our intentions. It’s not a mission for the faint of heart. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either not considering management of the “human” aspect of introducing lean, or they’re completely oblivious to dealing with the impact of change.

Each lean introduction or implementation that I’m involved in results in waves. There are times when the desired results and the engagement level of employees is high; there are times when results achieved fall short of expectations or the level of employee engagement is not as strong as desired.

Lean is a process; it’s not an instantaneous result. The journey can wander from the intended route, but it’s not the route so much as the destination that counts. More importantly, how we respond to setbacks can determine the velocity with which we arrive at the destination.

There are several ways to remain fervent during the introduction of lean when results may not be as targeted as you intended. Here are three:

Evolution not a revolution

Lean is about recognizable incremental change. Too often I’ve found that the very companies that engage in lean are seeking an overnight success. The chances of this happening are slim. Olympic athletes takes years, if not decades, to reach the top of their games; they recognize the commitment and hard work required to reach the top, and they ride the roller coaster of success versus failure in pursuit of improving performance. Achieving a lean culture is an evolution, not an instantaneous revolution. You’re turning a ship, not a Honda Civic.

Commitment starts with objectives

Who sets your lean objectives? If employees aren’t involved in identifying and setting the objectives to be achieved as a result of a lean initiative, they won’t be committed to achieving the outcome. Engagement requires multidimensional involvement. If you involve me in fixing a problem, then I’m solving your problem; if you involve me in identifying the problem, then I’m solving our problem.

The three Vs of progress

To sustain interest in continuing a lean journey, progress must be demonstrated on a multidimensional level. Telling me we are doing great is exciting the first time, but it quickly loses its impact. Progress toward mutually agreed upon objectives must be communicated verbally, visually and viscerally.

  • Discuss progress at every opportunity.
  • Prominently display results against targets.
  • Make a relevant connection for employees.

By applying this multidimensional approach to communicating progress, employee engagement can be sustained.

Remember there’s a reason they call it a lean “journey.” There will be ups and downs, but how you engage, respond and communicate with employees will determine whether you arrive at your intended destination or not.

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 www.casemoreandco.com or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.