Are You In the Right Place?

Are You In the Right Place?

I want to share an email that was recently sent to me.  I have asked the author for permission to publish it and he is interested in receiving more feedback from other readers, so please help one of our fellow Lean practitioners.

Email from Reader:

“Dear Lean Genesis,

I have a frustrating problem and I am interested to see if you can help me fix it.  I have always loved continuous improvement and I think I’m pretty good at it.  I have worked in environments that I believe have a pretty healthy understanding of lean.  I also have invested a lot of my time and money into increasing my level of understanding by taking classes, reading books and any other material (including your blog) that I can get my hands on that might help me grow my abilities.   I have studied and worked as a change agent in a good company for over 15 years, but it unfortunately closed during the recession.

My problem is that I have found myself working in a manufacturing company where the leadership expects me to implement lean, but they don’t want to be a part of it.  Actually, I really don’t think they understand what they are asking me to do and how much of a group activity lean implementation is.  I was hired to coordinate the implementation of a lean system, which I was up for when I joined the company, but I think what they actually expect is for me to facilitate Kaizen projects.  I am fine with that, but I don’t feel as though my projects are actually contributing to anything, they are just activities that are on someone else’s “to do” list.  I don’t feel as though true lean is within the organization nor are we on the correct course.   As a matter of fact, many of my projects have failed and I believe it is because we don’t have a lean mindset in the company leadership.  I am trying very hard to convince the production teams to adopt lean practices, but the company leaders contradict them.  I feel as though I am personally competent, but I am failing due to the lack of commitment or willingness to learn more about lean from our top leaders.

I have expressed my concern to my boss, but he isn’t the kind of person that listens very well.  He thinks that he is a lean expert and he appears to attempt to “mentor” me in every aspect of my job.  I am always excited to have an opportunity to be mentored, but unfortunately everything that my boss advises seems to be misaligned with everything that I’ve learned and believe.  His personal track record actually suggest that he isn’t very lean savvy.  

So I really don’t know what to do.  There are a lot of things I like about the company (especially the team members) and I think it has potential to be great.   I really love lean and I want to practice it correctly, but I just don’t know how to get the leaders to engage with the same passion that I have (or even at an acceptable level).  What do you think is the correct thing to do is?  Do you have any advice?  Is there a book, seminar or class that I can take that will help me?  Is it even worth staying?

Thanks in advance!”

Response from Lean Genesis:

Unfortunately, I’ve heard this type of story before.  One thing I want to say is that Lean is definitely something you need patience for.  I think it’s safe to say that all Lean practitioners have experienced a fair amount of frustration.  As a matter of fact, read this article.   Another thing is that you will find that different people will have different points of view when it comes to what lean looks like and how to go about it.  It sounds like your view of Lean is fundamentally different from your leaders, which is not uncommon, BUT…. there are a few things that are absolutely necessary for a Lean journey and some of the things in your letter concern me.

It sounds to me that you recognize the cultural side of Lean and your leaders see it as a set of tools that you can delegate someone to implement.  Is that about right?  If so, then I hope your leaders can become educated, and many do after realizing the truth.  I think a lot of people see the “simplicity” of Lean and mistake it for “easy”.  It’s anything but easy, and it has to start with leadership.  I can’t think of one example of a company that has implemented a true lean culture where the leaders were not 100% hands on.  There are a number of books available if your management is willing to educate themselves.  I like any of Dr. Liker’s books or “Creating a Lean Culture” by David Mann.

I think a big red flag is the way you describe your relationship with your boss.  If he is truly not listening to you and you feel as if you are not going to grow working for him, then you have a problem.  Either resolve your differences or consider finding a new boss.  I don’t know if all of the leaders in your organization share this same management style or not, but it’s detrimental to a Lean culture.

Lean requires a healthy dose of humility and respect for humanity from the leadership.  Arrogance has no place in Lean.  Since leadership does require confidence, it’s sometimes mistaken for or evolves into arrogance and this is where things can really go bad.  If your leaders are egotistical, your Lean experience will only go as far as you are describing, a superficial implementation of a few tools that won’t have a lasting effect.

I am very glad to hear that you have a passion for Lean and that you are striving for growth.  I am the same way, that’s why I started this blog.  You may have educated yourself to a level that others in your workplace don’t understand yet.  Depending on your level of influence, you may or may not be able to get them on the correct path.  I think that sometimes good people end up in the right place at the wrong time.  This may be the case for you and I think you have a personal choice that only you can make.  Lean isn’t for everyone.  Don’t misunderstand, I think it can be implemented in any company, but not all of them are ready for it.  If you are dedicated to working in a Lean environment and you don’t believe that your current company will be able to live up to that expectation, then you should probably consider finding a new employer.

If your company is heading down the wrong path, either change your company or change your company.


Please like & share:


  1. Saravanan
    November 12, 2014 23:18 Reply

    Dear sir
    1. Ensure the attitude of each member of the team members
    2.if your employee not inserted to implement the lean, execute it in some other name

  2. Paul Elson
    November 13, 2014 16:04 Reply

    Another way would be to show them some results. Quick wins in productivity or savings.

  3. Ed Grinde
    November 13, 2014 16:39 Reply

    One item that many lean implementation either do not take into account, or do so too late, is to redesign their operating metrics. You can do this at the cell level if necessary, but you need lean metrics to manage for lean results. If you are trying to implement lean but still driving for the highest machine utilization you will drive the wrong behavior. If you are worrying about standard costs based on reported machine or people hours, you are driving the wrong behavior. Make sure that your metrics at the cell and value stream level are in synch with lean. Do you have SWIP defined and marked out and are monitoring the adhearance? Are you using takt time to set the work pace and the staffing needs? No need to over-staff and over-produce to get “good numbers”. Do you have a day-by-the-hour board, based on today’s manufacturing needs, to allow the cell and production management to quickly see if they are producing at the appropriate pace, giving themselves time to make mid-day course corrections in order to meet today’s demand?

    Again, if you are using traditional manufacturing metrics while trying to implement lean, then you are sending mixed messages and your workforce will always fall back to that which they are most comfortable and have been doing for years.

  4. Janet
    November 13, 2014 17:05 Reply


    Have you tried a pilot already? That is, with full management cooperation but for e.g. 1 department initially. Have the expectations be crystal clear and make the outcome SMART. When the pilot has succeeded, the results will be more visible instead of abstract expected results only and you have a chance that the management will further cooperate in the lean transition.
    Good luck.

  5. Brian Leonard
    November 13, 2014 22:54 Reply

    Unfortunately, your conundrum is not uncommon. Many studies show the #1 reason Lean fails is a lack of visible leaderships support and engagement. At one point in my career I found myself in a similar situation. Lean, as you stated, was viewed as a set of tools to be delegated to others rather than a philosophy and methodology which requires leadership support.

    In my case, the manager was very similar to the manager you described. Each day I would press the issue and attempt to engage the leadership team. And each day I also considered leaving. I stuck it out though despite the lack of support. In time, the leadership team, after constant insistence began to show interest. From there they started taking ownership and provided support. It actually changed when I told them I was considering leaving. I had been producing results which gave me some leverage in our discussions.

    I viewed it as a steep challenge, but am a better Lean practitioner because of it. My case turned out well, but had it not taken a turn for the better in the first 1 year I would have gone elsewhere. I would have made it clear why I was leaving.

    I would advise you to take on the challenge and constantly chip away at the leadership problems. If you see no change in your leadership team’s mindset within a year I would begin looking elsewhere; just my opinion. Imagine though if you succeed in this challenge! Imagine what you will have gained by overcoming this ever so common, yet burdensome, problem of ‘no leadership support’! Provide examples of research done on this topic and continuously try to engage the manager. That might help.

  6. November 13, 2014 23:04 Reply

    To read this article, brings tears to my eyes as I am in the similar position whom has a passion for Lean technology, communication and the willingness to share.
    I completely understand the position you in, Lean is not understood by most influential leaders in the right positions. I developed a passion for lean in 2007 during the recession and was chosen by an external consulting company as a Lean leader. I took it a step further by educating myself on lean, then found that communication and influencial skill were critical. I therefore concentrated on those. I ran projects saving millions anually. I was so engrossed with the way Lean worked and eventually joined Toyota (father of lean) which enhanced my levels to the highest levels in South Africa.
    I was then offered jobs on the turn all over SA, but now find myself at home due to the misconseption or the poor understanding of Lean Culture.
    I have started my own company as stated above “If your company is heading down the wrong path, either change your company or change your company”. The problem is that most companies do not understand lean culture or change agents.I get offered a job almost every 3 months but have yet to have have found a company or a leader that I would be comfortable with.
    My advice to you is, never give up, keep calm and keep “looking” Lean is becoming a way of everyday life and everday more and more people are starting to understand our culture and the way we think.In the last 5 years there has been tremendous amount of enquiries on the net about Lean
    Strong words directed at me by the Linkedin team. When asked to publish, “What do you want to be known for?”
    I sat back on my chair and just looked at those words and this is what came to mind.
    I want to be known for the knowledge I acquired from others just by reading, understanding and implementing into reality of my surroundings. Basically I have a passion for Lean technology and Leadership. I have worked for numerous companies and have taken all that experience and knowledge increasing efficiencies and reducing cost in any environment. I have a firm belief that I am designed to make an impact and wherever I go, I do just that.
    Vision statement: is to work for or create a company that relentlessly pursues continuous improvement at all levels. Efficiency and customer satisfaction must be the pinnacle of the organisations existence.
    Mission statement: is to seek out my vision on all corners of the planet until I succeed, be relentless and leave no stone unturned in my quest.
    Value statement: to achieve all my goals and aspirations with integrity and honesty meeting some of the most influential people on my journey.
    “Connecting and collaborating are your most powerful keys to success as an entrepreneur.” – Kathy Ireland, Founder, CEO & Chief Designer of kathy ireland worldwide, 2011 Phenomenal Woman Of The Year

  7. Nancy Kress
    November 14, 2014 16:24 Reply

    The last line of the blog entry give you the two options: change your company or change your company. Many companies want the results that lean can deliver, but few top executives have the requisite understanding of lean needed to support a lean enterprise. It’s easy to blame top management for failure and seek greener pastures. Masaaki Imai, in “Gemba Kaizen”, says that the supervisor’s role is to manage people, and that blaming people for poor quality, cost or delivery is a cop out. Managing goes up as well as down. “The Toyota Way” notes that the “true believers” of lean have to do their best by creating models, step by step, for executives to learn from.

    I discussed this blog entry with one of my direct reports, and whether they felt that managing upwards was part of my responsibility. The staff person told me that my situation was like trying to move a giant boulder. I laughed, and wondered aloud how many grains of sand I represented in trying to erode the boulder. Boulders can be eroded and changed, but it takes many grains of sand and a lot of time. I agree with Imai that “supervisors who blame their people are abdicating their role.”

  8. November 18, 2014 08:42 Reply

    This appears to be a case where a gut level attack is needed, and the best type is always to talk ‘dollars’…the language that everyone, especially management, always understands. Pick a line, or an area of the operation, and figure out where its losing money. Then publish a daily or weekly note that says something like “Congratulations, we only lost $3,700 last week.” No stats, no percentages, no metrics…just raw dollars. And keep doing it. Repeatedly. Over and over. Even if people attack your number, then at least you have then got the conversation started.

    If the dollarizing still evokes no response…then quit. Your frustration will only cause you to someday go postal, and none of us wants that.

  9. Laurie
    November 19, 2014 17:59 Reply

    My advice to you on this challenge is to shift from action to observation. What are the key pain points your company, industry, manager, coworkers, and employees are experiencing. Take a 360 view and then further get feedback from the employees you have connected with to understand what the barriers are. You owe it to your company to have a conversation with your manager to understand what you can do to help him or the organization be successful. Look in the mirror, are your kaizen events focused on solving the right problems. Who owns the follow through on actions needed from a people, process, technology standpoint. Change management / engagement is the secret ingredient that will help to build the momentum and passion for applying lean methods. Other option is to ask to move to a part of the business that no one wants but is in need of lean to turn it around. This can be a success story to engage the organization. Make others successful with your lean expertise without prescribing what you think is needed. Give away the credit, and watch them come back to you for your help. This will help to drive the culture you are looking for. Last word of advice is …. never give up!

  10. fernando
    December 28, 2014 18:06 Reply

    Based in my 20 years working in industrial companies, my suggestions are between Janet and Jim Pfister thoughts,
    First no organization is prepared to change and introduce Lean , we need to sell it.!!!
    Then we need a pilot project where savings in dollars can be shown, of course using as a part of the solution, Lean Techniques. Look in to production activities where they loss a lot of time. May be this can help to find the first step.
    Best regards fernando

Leave a reply