Over the years, many people have asked me some variation of the question:
“Why are my employees not embracing Lean?”
More often than not, the tone of the question is of blame… blaming the employees for not embracing Lean.
Sometimes, I get called in to visit an organization to help figure out the situation. A few times in a row, the answer was clear. Employees were not engaged with Lean and were not embracing the approach because Lean was misguidedly framed as all about cost cutting, as I've blogged about before:
I put a short post on LinkedIn a few weeks ago about the question of employees not embracing Lean and got almost 40,000 views and quite a few comments. I'll elaborate a bit below.
When an executive asks “Why are my employees not embracing #Lean?” we could ask in return “Why have you not embraced your people? Why have you not engaged them and allowed them to make improvements that matter to them?” #Kaizen
I guess I could have asked:
- “Have you embraced your people?” and
- “How you engage your people and allow them to make improvements that matter to them?”
I could have asked those questions instead of assuming that the people asking the question of me do not do those things.
If leaders engage people and help them use Lean methods to solve problems that matter to them, they'll embrace Lean.
If leaders use Lean thinking and mindsets to better support their people, instead of just using tools, employees will embrace Lean.
If Lean is properly framed as a way to solve safety problems (for patients and employees), then employees will embrace Lean.
If leaders are servant leaders, lead with humility, and have the mindset expressed by former Toyota leader Darril Wilburn (“it's the responsibility of leaders to create a system in which employees can be successful”), then employees will embrace Lean.
Instead of blaming employees for not buying it, what can you do to be of service to them? To help them perform better?
Yes, Mark Graban! Employees don't have to agree with anyone or any approach. They may have to follow directions for a time. But, they don't have to agree. You can force compliance, but you can't force faith or trust. #Lean #CindyDiggs
Mark DeLuzio – Lean Pioneer and Architect of the DANAHER Business System
Actually, I wish there were more executives that would even ask that question!
True… how many executives are focused on spreadsheets and financial reports instead of even paying attention to the idea that employees might not be buying in?
George Harvey – Performance Excellence Facilitator at Martin Health System
I agree, but it may also depend on where the culture is and the trust gap that needs to be closed. How many times have their people been burned? How often has the organization lurched from one program to another?
Those are good questions and fall along the lines of what I'm saying about not blaming employees for not embracing Lean.
George Friesen – Business Practice Leader – Lean Transformations at St. Louis Community College
“Why have you not engaged your employees?” The answer, I believe, is fear. Many leaders find “letting go” as tantamount to not being a leader.
That fear and anxiety about a new leadership style is real. I think that's one reason why leaders need a coach for this Lean transformation (something that arguably starts with a personal transformation that can't be forced either).
Graham Canning – Managing Director at Lean FSL Associates Ltd
I'd also ask, ‘so have you ensured that they have time to make improvements, and provided a culture where mistakes can be made and learnt from?'. If the answer to either is no, then they'll never make a breakthrough. When are leaders going to realise that they must generate the conditions to be a ‘learning organisation' for lean to really deliver?
What would you add to the discussion?
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