By Andrew Nicholson, Managing Director of Nicholson Consultancy Ltd
Lean works best when everyone in the company – from the chief executive to the most junior member of staff – buys in to the strategy, and benefits from it.
This is easier said than done as it is human nature to resist change and to want to hang on to the status quo.
For lean to succeed the entire workforce has to be involved from the very start.
People need to feel that they are central to the introduction and implementation of lean and that it is not merely a ‘pie in the sky’ diktat from above; another management initiative imposed without any employee involvement.
Many people’s first reaction is to ask – ‘what’s in it for me’. I have learnt that this sort of question should not be dismissed as a selfish response and should not be sidestepped with a ‘for the greater good of the company’ reply.
Tackling this question head-on is the best tactic. Show people how embracing the principles of lean will make their job easier; that it will be a case of working smarter, not harder in the future.
Employees should be encouraged to contribute and it must be shown that their ideas and suggestions will be listened, taken seriously and acted upon. Think about starting with some short, sharp ideas workshops. Use “Ease and Effect” to prioritise employee ideas and make sure you get some “quick wins” to show the benefits.
Another lesson is that one size does not fit all. Every firm has elements of individuality which have evolved due to its history and how its products have been refined and developed. This is often what helps it stand out in the market-place.
Just as a doctor would not give the same pill to different patients with different symptoms, the same applies to lean manufacturing.
An off-the-shelf lean package will not do – what works for Toyota might not work for you! Solutions have to be tailored to an individual company’s operation and relevant goals need to be drawn up.
Partnering with the right outside help is essential in the early days. Managers and employees have experience and knowledge about the way their company works and lean practitioners are experts in the principles of lean. Embracing a partnership approach ensures that a company uses the right lean tools and techniques that exactly meet its individual requirements, and that skills and knowledge are transferred into the business.
And last, but not least, it has become apparent during the last three decades that lean does not just apply to industrial giants, but can be relevant to and employed by small and medium enterprises in pretty much any sector who want to improve their processes and operations.