Guest Post: Expanding Horizons of Communication


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One world is getting bigger—at least from my vantage point as a specialist in LEAN COMMUNICATIONS principles and practices. The lean community gathered at the Lean Enterprise Institute's Lean Transformation Summit in Orlando early in March, expanded its focus to include broader discussions that included people, not just the work and tools.

For example, at this summit, entitled “Applying Lean Thinking Across the Enterprise,” participants actually asked questions about human resources issues in the plenary sessions.   Also, LEI offered more sessions on HR and change than in years past.

Also this year, communications was out in the open, although not as front and center as I would have liked it, but definitely more than all the other summits combined.

Granted, lean is about the work. But for workers at all levels, there's more to the workplace than the work. Consider the context for the work—the company, the industry, and the economic environment. Also recognize the relationships with co-workers, customers and vendors, and countless other elements.

So what's my point?

Formal workplace communications is bigger than just communicating about the work. While the lean community will always have A3s, visual controls and observations that help employees improve their job performance, people can benefit from other types of communications too.

In fact, several of the Lean Transformation Summit speakers shared communication actions they're now committed to, having learned from their mistakes. These include:

  1. Give the “why.” Explain the rationale and connect the dots so people will understand why they need to change their behaviors. It's not enough to ask the five whys about the work.
  2. Communicate consistently. Establish a cadence for communications, just as you do for your other processes. If you communicate erratically, it's too easy for people to fill up the black holes of no communication with misinterpretation, misinformation and speculation.
  3. Share details. Concrete communication is more useful than abstract concepts, especially when you're rallying people to change their behavior. For example, don't just say “Quality is important.” Instead, talk about how you're committed to reducing defects by a certain percentage in 18 months—or whatever your specific goal is. Being clear about expectations will help galvanize people and set the direction for the actions they need to take. You'll reduce the chances for misunderstandings and floundering.

Several speakers also said they're appealing more to people's emotions, not just their rational side when talking about their lean efforts. The social science research strongly supports this approach. (The new book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, explains the importance of reaching both parts of the brain. This book will probably be even more influential than their first bestseller, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.)

As Greg Peters of Goodrich, who's in his second decade of his lean journey wryly noted, “The longest 18 inches in the world is between the head and the heart.”

So who says it's a small world?


Liz Guthridge, Connect Consulting:  Linking Purpose/People/Process— for Results





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Liz turns blue-sky thinking into greener-pastures actions. Helps leaders improve by applying neuroscience, behavior design and lean communications.


  1. Success and true change in the workplace will come from altering one’s consciousness.
    .-= Jefferson Martin/synfluent ´s last blog ..Midvale Steel: Early Silicon Valley? =-.

  2. “Great article! When thinking about the “why”, you might consider making it personal. Talk about how the hospital employee’s life will be better after adopting lean, let the “why” really connect the dots for them. What will motivate the employee? Really interesting piece!”

  3. LOVE this topic – I talk about it all the time when I teach – the methods of communication, testing whether the message is received, the fact that the grapevine simply fills gaps in information, that information doesn’t have to be perfect to be communicated. And the big one – tell people WHY. In fact, I talk about my two-word strategy for minimizing resistance to change: Communicate Why. Great stuff, Liz.

  4. Good stuff. Your point #2 (consistent cadence) really resonates with me. I’ve found that when I follow leader standard work, which calls for frequent but predictable intervals of communication (in the form of gemba walks, daily accountability meetings, etc.), I tend to get more productive feedback from my team members than if I show up to chit-chat sporadically.


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