One of our most popular blogs in 2016 looked at ‘Five effective tools for promoting Lean within your organisation’, where we focused on some of the key ways to ensure that you take all your employees along with you when you embark on your Lean journey. A year on from that article, it occurs to me that there are some other, perhaps more surprising ways to promote Lean too and ensure that your project stays on-track.
1. Share your failures
The received wisdom is that successes should be shared, as a way of creating a culture of recognition and a communal sense of pride in what you have achieved. However, I would argue that it is just as important – if not more important – to share your failures too, as a way of promoting Lean. Being confident enough to share your failures may require a significant shift in culture however, as it is our natural instinct to gloss over difficulties and focus on the positive. Lean leaders need to demonstrate by example and be willing to reveal their mistakes in order to encourage others to do the same. Over time, your teams will be comfortable sharing their failures and the whole organisation will benefit from the process.
2. Lead from the bottom
It is widely acknowledged that good leadership is intrinsic to successful Lean deployment. Senior managers and board members need to be seen to be leading from the front, committed to the success of Lean and acting as role models and figureheads for the rest of the workforce. If the c-suite isn’t committed to Lean, it is doomed to failure.
That said, good leadership is required throughout the organisation and, in a typical pyramid structure, it is just as important that a Lean business is led from the bottom too. Whether a manufacturer, retailer or a service provider, in any Lean organisation those on the shop floor, in the factory or working in the back office have a voice which needs to be heard.
Those at the coal face will have first-hand insight into how processes can be improved and are likely to be much closer to the customer. By listening to criticism as well as suggestions from them, and empowering them to lead the Lean initiative, you can transform your corporate culture and enable your employees to perform better and achieve more. While strong leadership from senior management is vital, organisations which encourage leadership at all levels will have a competitive edge and see the benefits of promoting Lean throughout the business.
3. Be open about team conflicts
Effective teamwork is central to Lean, but there is a prevailing perception that working as a team means not disagreeing with each other. I would argue that the opposite is true. A healthy, effective team is willing to discuss problems and disagreements in the open. Participants feel comfortable challenging each other and different points of view are taken on board.
Of course, this needs to be handled carefully, with a strong leader to steer a path through moments of conflict, but ultimately a willingness to air opposing views in an environment of collective responsibility leads to better problem solving and more effective teamwork.
This openness can also be a useful antidote to ‘group think’, thereby fostering innovative thinking and allowing individuals within the team to thrive. The key to success however, is a strong team leader who can carefully manage any conflict and use it to your advantage.
Often it is by taking a counter-intuitive approach, as exemplified by these three approaches to promoting Lean, that you can help you unlock potential and take your programme to the next level.
Don’t be afraid to think creatively about promoting Lean within your organisation and involve people at all levels of the business in the process. As ever, I’d welcome your views and suggestions too so please feel free to contact me via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@kumo_ian).