I recently spoke at the Printing United Alliance (PUA) Continuous Improvement Conference, and we discussed the impact of having a Lean Culture. Many executives are familiar with culture, but are foggy about what Lean or Lean Culture means. It means setting the default for when you encounter a problem, to apply Lean Processes in solving them. Think of it this way, Lean Culture is not just individual tools or processes applied to one area of the business. When Lean Methodologies are automatically called upon to solve problems in any process used to get things done in your business, you are establishing Lean Culture. This includes problems that impact operational departments or production as well as transactional processes like order entry.
Let’s not overlook a key concept introduced in the last paragraph; problem solving. Ask yourself if this describes your culture. When a problem occurs, does your team often rely on others to solve the problem and “come to the rescue”? Do many problems that get solved, occur again in the future? Does it usually involve multiple people to solve it? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, establishing a Lean Culture can go a long way. A key component in this process often missed is developing and training an army of problems solvers equipped to solve problems as they occur. When problems solving skills are linked with Lean Principles, it can prove to be transformative in your business.
A more traditional way to describe training others to act is a leadership practice of pushing decision making authority to the lowest appropriate level. This is accomplished by training and empowering them to take action rather than wait for someone else to solve the problem. How many times have your heard yourself or your leaders say “We don’t have time to train… or work on strategic implementation… or…. (fill in the blank). When this concept is employed as part of the overall business strategy, you ultimately free up time for leaders to “lead” instead of “doing” things others are capable of doing.
I employed this approach with a leader who was routinely in tears, stressed to the max, getting calls at night and working weekends to get the work done. A few short months into using this approach, she was able to shift some duties only she could do to others on her team. A little further down the road, her nightly calls all but disappeared and weekends were only worked when she wanted to show support for her team. She developed and empowered her team to solve problems as part of our Lean Culture! It literally transformed her life.
If you see reflections of these examples in your company, take action and investigate how to instill Lean Culture in your business.