Mark's Note: Today's post is by David Veech, the Executive Director of the Institute for Lean Systems. A fear or anxiety that people often have when they hear the term “lean” is that it will be a stressful environment, sort of like the famous Lucy & Ethel chocolate factory scene. David writes about dispelling that myth…
First of all, let's be honest: Change is stressful.
When an organization introduces a new way of doing things – whether it's the lean way or some other new system – workers are going to be skeptical and concerned. After all, their jobs are at stake.
And telling workers that you're going to “empower” them doesn't help. To the average worker, empower means more responsibility with no more pay or control. They've probably heard it before.
But lean can be different – when it's done with a systems focus.
Lean is a people-focused system based on a simple concept: No one knows the work better than the people who do it. Lean emphasizes educating and cross-training workers and letting those who are closest to the work design the system.
Reducing worker stress – Properly implemented, a lean transformation can reduce worker stress in a number of ways, such as:
Leveling the workload – In a typical work environment, work flow is erratic. Extremely stressful, busy periods are interspersed with slow, nonproductive stretches, during which time workers are bracing for the next crunch. Everyone seems either too busy or not busy enough. Lean focuses on getting the right things to the right place at the right time and in the right quantity to achieve smooth work flow. By leveling the workload, lean helps alleviate worker stress.
Standardizing work processes – A key feature of lean production is simplification and standardization of work procedures. It's all about making the work easy to manage and understandable for employees.
Cross-training and providing job flexibility – Lean requires a multi-skilled workforce organized into teams, preferably self-directed. The opportunity to develop a wider range of skills increases job satisfaction and results in greater productivity.
Giving workers more control over the work – The key to lean transformation is giving workers the power to participate in decision-making and problem-solving. In a 1990 book, The Machine that Changed the World (1990), the authors found that the “freedom to control one's work” replaced “mind-numbing” stress. In a lean environment, workers have the opportunity “to think actively, indeed proactively.”
All of this is not to say that lean transformation is easy. Successful transition to a lean system requires a strong commitment from top management and a deep understanding of lean principles and practices. Extensive education and training are needed at all levels.
But the results are well worth it.
For more information about how lean can help your organization, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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