How to Prime Your People and Adopt Lean Methodology

There is a graphic which circulates the internet, listing TEN REASONS employees stay with a company.

All these attributes sound very noble. The term “employee engagement” sums up all 10 words. Certainly, your company’s staff can identify with some of these attributes. But how many of you out there can attest that your employees feel all 10?

This is part of a bigger question we at gothamCulture often ask: “How do we help companies elevate their performance to this new level?” A final question is, “How do we make it stick?”

gC endorses Lean methodology. Lean is a common sense approach to increase customer satisfaction, decrease costs, and improve the quality of products and services, concurrently. In order to accomplish this, organizations must create full transparency and be clear about what drives their overall performance.

Where most organizations fail is that they don’t consider the workforce. For those of you in early discussions on Lean, I’ve created the graphic below to describe what you need to make your workforce think more Lean, and substantially improve your company’s performance.

The central horizontal pillar is what your organization does—your core competency. It may not be a smooth process to start. Lots of distinct steps. But one of the best ways to improve it is to ask your workforce, in a facilitated manner, what it will take to do so. The best part is this: It costs you NOTHING.

When management is looking for improvements, they’re typically looking for fewer, bigger initiatives which can be project managed from the top down. Smaller, more sustainable improvements come from the bottom up.

Start Thinking Lean:

  1. Pick a process to focus on. Product quality results from a strong process. If you improve the process, you cannot help but improve the product. Quality gets built in, not added on.
  2. If you can involve the people who work on your processes daily, with coming up with ideas for changing the process, they will feel empowered and trusted and valued.
  3. You have to set up a simple feedback loop so people know their ideas are being considered. It can be a suggestion box or a fancy website. But it must be transparent.
  4. Ideas should be vetted by management, but only after the 1st level supervisor goes through them with the team and makes an initial decision.
  5. Ideas don’t need to be limited to just your location or from other locations.
  6. Employee recognition is the key to priming the pump and keeping the ideas coming!

“Simple enough, so why don’t companies get there?” The biggest hurdle may be nothing more than the word LEAN itself!

Previously, I’ve written about barriers that can keep an organization from adopting Lean. When you tell your workforce that you’re looking into a Lean initiative, their first thoughts may be on headcount reductions or budget restrictions. Lean could be interpreted as meaning “no fat” or “trimmed”.

In theory, Lean means “no more than you need to have / an ideal amount.” At gC, we call our Lean initiatives “Prime”. The term ‘prime’ has wonderful connotations which empower organizations we help:

  1. of first importance; main. (prime effort)
  2. of the best possible quality; excellent.
  3. a state or time of greatest strength, vigor, or success in a person’s life. (prime of life)
  4. make (something) ready for use or action, in particular. (prime a pump)
  5. prepare (someone) for a situation or task, typically by supplying them with relevant information.

How to Get Lean

Specify Value: Know who your customer is and what they consider value-adding.

Map the Value Stream: Start with the first touch point in your process, and work all the way to the final customer. How long does it take to add value? Identify everything else as waste.

Establish Flow: Remove wastes and harmonize the time to produce through workload leveling and standard work. Eliminate bottlenecks as they appear and shift.

Implement Pull: Once flow is created, start to produce only what is needed to the customer’s tact. Do not do extra. Build quality in and eliminate rework.

Work to Perfection: A lean journey is never complete. Reexamine, refine, re-implement.

The heart of Lean methodology is to decrease waste, so we must have the proper metrics in place to measure the effectiveness. If you’re still at a loss on what to track, I propose that Return on Invested Capital becomes the single, best, top-level metric you can use today.

By following these five steps and tracking the proper KPI’s to measure your progress, your company can reduce waste, increase performance, and successfully adopt a Lean methodology. But don’t forget about the people side of the equation in the process. Make your people the PRIME focus of your lean effort.