Difficulties With Changing To A Lean Culture Part 01 By Mike Thelen


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Difficulties With Changing To A Lean Culture Part 01 By Mike Thelen

  1. 1. Difficulties with Changing to a Lean Culture: Part I Lean Roll-out {or through…by…over…} Where will the “human-side” of Lean hit you? Mike Thelen shares experiences with front-line and middle managers in Part I. As is the case with any Lean implementation in a Traditional environment, culture (or more specifically culture change) will be the most difficult obstacle to success. While a company can hire consultants, develop work teams, and even begin Lean initiatives, if the company only "talks the talk", the initiative soon becomes just that, talk. The transformation to a Lean Enterprise is not easy. Senior management while being driven by the labor force must lead the process. More importantly, those employees between these two levels must focus on using the tools and training provided on a consistent, daily basis to enforce the concept of culture change. They are truly the "change agents." This is the area of weakness in many implementations. Department supervisors and managers receive useful training; yet fail to transfer the knowledge to "real work" events. The causes may be numerous and valid. Regardless, they cannot be accepted. Why does this happen and can it be prevented? Why does this happen? One cause is those who would be change agents often do not have time to use the tools, as things are always "hot" or "rush". Routinely, floor management will spend the majority of their time looking for lost or delayed product. When they find the problem, they cannot take the time to determine the root cause. Once one fire is put out, another develops. Therefore, they repeat the cycle day in and day out. Another cause for failure is potential change agents are being held to metrics that do not mesh with Lean Initiatives. When the company begins a Lean initiative, the process begins on the manufacturing floor, rather than in the boardroom. A manager is evaluated on short-term, process-based metrics, while trying to create long-term, customer-based results. During the review process, the manager is penalized for failure to achieve the former, while being unrewarded for achieving gains to the latter. Direct report interaction, or more accurately forced direct report interaction, can also stall change agents. One of the most routine, yet most difficult, roles of the manager is that of enforcer. Requiring or empowering direct reports to follow specific instructions, change their work habits, or even support change initiatives requires a loosening of "control" while also forcing accountability as well as responsibility. This is made more challenging to overcome in companies where change has often been viewed as the "fad" or "flavor of the month" mentality. Unfortunately, companies may also have incidents where the potential change agents are resistant to change. They may claim "hot" issues or employee evaluations hold them back, when in fact those are simply viable alternatives to the true root cause. Change agents feel they have the most to lose in a Lean Enterprise. The "firefighter" or "hero" role they have become so accustomed to disappears. By their definition, they are no longer as "value-added" as they once were. Can it be prevented? First and foremost, a company striving to become a Lean Enterprise must provide its change agents with the opportunity to learn and use the tools. Change agents need the training to feel comfortable with the tools. Some people learn more from classroom training, some prefer outside seminars, some will only gain the knowledge needed in a "learn by doing" atmosphere. Companies may find that some of their agents need combinations of the above. All potential change agents will have different learning curves. Developing a training curriculum at the start of a Lean initiative will give the change agents an opportunity to be committed to and prepared for the company's Lean journey. A company's willingness to provide each potential agent with the training he or she desires will also solidify the significance of transitioning to a Lean Enterprise.
  2. 2. Second, senior management must show support of the use of Lean tools for each problem that arises on a daily basis. If it is acceptable to disregard the tools when dealing with "hot" or "rush" product due to time constraints, the significance of the tools is diminished and they are easier to bypass on a regular basis. Completing a PCSAM and 5-Why analysis for each item identified on a "hot" sheet will reduce the number and frequency of items labeled "hot". The same principle can be applied to customer complaints, ISO deficiencies, equipment breakdowns, or virtually all levels of a business system. Third, the change agents must be provided with a coach who can guide them through the process of using individual Lean tools and initiatives through completion (at least initially). As it can be difficult to lead an initiative without experience, change agents often need a coach, whether they openly discuss or quietly ignore the need for assistance. The role of coach is to guide and assist in training and direction, giving the change agent support during difficult phases of a project. The coach can be extremely valuable when faced with objections from direct reports, as well as superiors. He or she can also help convert a resistant change agent by helping resolve issues one-on-one while showing the dramatic results that can be attained. Fourth, senior management must be willing to take the action recommended as part of the PCSAM evaluation. Little can stall a Lean initiative more effectively than having change agents and direct labor follow the process and determine an effective solution, only to have senior management refuse to take action (either without justification or due to short-term goal conflicts). An instance where one improvement action is refused simply due to the short lead-time between this action and its predecessor will also undermine the Lean initiative, as the importance of continuous improvement will be dismissed. Senior management must also empower the change agent (or team) to make changes, and trust that the correct decisions will be made. Failure to provide support of decisions, reached through the effective use of training and tools, will diminish the commitment to Lean initiatives. Last, the company as a whole must maintain a true long-term focus for all activities. Short-term goals should be sacrificed for long-term gain, not vise-versa. Many companies struggle with this as quarterly reports affect stock price, dividends, and other financial success measures. Plants transitioning to lean enterprises seldom achieve success in less than five years. In fact, it can take up to 10 years or more to realize long-term gains. Companies not capable of making that long-term commitment should review alternatives to lean. There is no magic pill for Lean initiatives. The Lean process requires time, commitment, and determination. Companies that cannot envision the long-term commitment to Lean, and only use the tools for short-term gain, will achieve some limited success. However, without the culture supporting those tools, the Lean initiative will fail, becoming the "flavor of the week" that everyone knew would not last. As Jeffrey Liker advises in The Toyota Way, "...if you are not the CEO and top management is interested only in short-term financial results...1. Find greener pastures...2. Participate in playing the game of applying tools for short-term gains and hope you share...3. Work to build a successful lean model and educate top management by blowing them away with exceptional results." Mike Thelen is Lean Facilitator at Aberdeen, SD based Hub City, Inc., a subsidiary of the Regal-Beloit Corporation, Beloit, WI. He has led Lean Initiatives in positions from Front-Line Supervisor to System Facilitator in various corporations since 2001. Mike can be reached at mike.thelen@regalbeloit.com.