Fostering a Lean Culture Through Your Employees
While working for a traditional batch manufacturer in the early 2000’s we faced many of the typical challenges - bloated inventory, many interruptions in flow, frustrated team members, missed shipments, cash flow challenges, and so much more. Then we saw lean in action and it changed our paradigm.
Challenges are inevitable when you begin such a significant transformational journey. The first major impact was to the employees, and it was a doozy; how we paid our team has been using a piece rate system. When we implemented one of the first major changes, it was eliminating piece rate and moving to hourly rates. The team loved piece rate and was not happy to see it go yet, we realized as we learned Lean that such a structure was adverse to Lean. Piece Rate encouraged quantity over quality and competitiveness over teamwork. If we were going to change how our team approached their work, we had to change how we approached the business. Although we lost a few employees as a result, the majority stayed with us and realized at the end of the day, their pay wasn’t significantly impacted, and they began to realize they could enjoy their work, and teammates.
Even small changes in an organization can be challenging to implement and sustain. Identifying needed changes to become a Lean organization, and instituting those changes isn’t any different; in fact, it can be more challenging as it calls for a complete shift in the approach to business. Lean isn’t about command and control, or top down MBO techniques. Maximizing the power of Lean is achieved by earning the hearts of employees, encouraging their individual talents, and creating a safe and respectful environment where all employees energetically participate in continuous improvement and elimination of waste. Developing a Lean culture, the one we could only envision at that time, became our focus as a company.
Challenges are inevitable; however, when the commitment to change does not waver and the belief in the power of a collective team of amazing individuals is strong, change becomes reality. Over the years, continued study and application is critical. As a result of such commitment in both people and systems an organization can realize the successful implementation of Lean tools like; visual systems, elimination of waste, Kaizen events, Kanban’s, 5S, self-driven continuous improvement of all process; and, other Lean tools.
However, it’s important to recognize that investing in people development is not nearly as simple as working with paper, machines, books, systems…etc. People are dynamic; every person is different in some way from everyone else. Yet, when it’s approached from a group and team mindset one learns that each individual can limit the potential of the group. Therefore, connecting the team one by one becomes the exciting challenge! If an individual's full potential is desired, then one must consistently endeavor to cultivate a culture that fosters trust, safety, communication, and celebration. This journey requires leaders to remain constant with a steady dose of creative tension that strategically continues to set the bar just a little higher than the achieved goal.