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.