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business, improvement, leadership, lean, Uncategorized

I Already Know Lean

The first step is transformation of the individual.  This transformation is discontinuous.  It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge.  The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, events, to numbers, to interactions between people.” – W. Edwards Deming

Facing resistance when introducing lean to an organization is common – and even expected.  Especially early in the effort, people will look at lean as a passing fad or not applicable to what they do.  A less common but just as destructive type of resistance put up by some people is that they already to lean.  Dealing with this excuse for opting out of the effort requires taking the time to understand whether it stems from fear of looking ignorant by needing to learn something new or if it is ego driven.

First of all, nobody “does” lean naturally.  Although some people have more of an inclination toward lean thinking than others, everybody needs some level of learning or coaching to develop it more deeply.  The conventional western approach to business over the last century runs so counter to lean that a deep level of reprogramming is necessary for most people.  The problem for those leading the transformation, though, is to convince those who already do lean that, although they may apply components of it to their work, the big gains from lean come when it is understood and applied as a system.

Telling these people that they don’t understand lean will only get them to dig in more deeply and further block the willingness or the ability to learn.  Helping people open up to learning about lean requires spending a significant amount of time with them to learn what they do and how they work, and using a questioning approach to get them to realize that lean encompasses far more than eliminating waste, and that they have much more to learn to realize its true benefits.  It can take a lot of time to do this but, in a way, it is like going to gemba for personal transformation because driving change cannot be done without connecting to those with whom you are working to change.

Clues to Form the Questions

Spending time with those who already do lean will provide clues as to where to begin formulating the questions and the approach to drive learning.  Some of the actions and practices to look at during the time you spend with the person include:

  • Developing others is viewed as a high priority and there is clear evidence that it is actually being done;
  • People on the team the person leads have a clear line-of-sight to the company’s vision;
  • Interaction with team members is heavily oriented toward questioning to drive learning rather than advocacy and dictating orders;
  • Problems are addressed using a structured approach rather than jumping to the answer;
  • Decisions and actions are approached through the use of the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle;
  • People are comfortable openly reporting and discussing problems;
  • There is a true connection to gemba that aids in setting team objectives and driving the type of support provided;
  • The processes team members use to achieve results is emphasized just as much – or more – than the results themselves;
  • The leader follows the same approach to addressing management or system-level problems as team members do for process problems;
  • Team performance is increasingly more dependent on the system than the skills or personality of the leader.

There are obviously other areas one could look to for clues for driving the conversations with someone who already thinks they know lean, but the above are a good place to start.  The key for the person driving the change is to go to gemba with the people being coached to learn what they do, how they do it, and the type of results they are achieving.  The more information you have, the better you can direct your coaching and conversations toward getting the person to slowly lower his or her defenses and open up to learning.

Transformation Can Happen

It is very satisfying to see someone have a light bulb moment with respect to lean.  It is at this point when transformation begins and learning greatly accelerates.  Although some people will never open themselves up enough to truly learn, I have found that, as long as I’m willing to take the time needed and continue to learn and develop myself, I can achieve some level of progress with most people.

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About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.

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