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3 Lean Strategies that Will Create Employee Buy-In

3 Lean Strategies that Will Create Employee Buy-In

Lean systems offer the intoxicating possibility of breakthrough improvement, but the sobering reality is that lean failures vastly outnumber successes. Although businesses and leaders cite many reasons for these missteps, a lack of employee buy-in usually tops the list.

To deal with this challenge, companies will try all kinds of strategies, including bribery, reasoning, and threats. Regardless of the approach, employees are often slow to come around. In the face of this rejection, businesses are left to confront the unappetizing prospect of doubling down or giving up entirely.

However, there’s one angle that offers a way forward by flipping the persuasion equation. Instead of getting your workforce to embrace lean, why not have lean embrace your workforce? By accommodating lean principles to the sentiments of your employees, buy-in is automatic. In addition, it will enable your company to attack significant sources of inefficiency.

Here are some ways to do this.

Provide the Right Supplies, Tools, and Training

Although it’s often taken for granted that a shop floor has what it needs, I’ve seen facilities where employees have to rummage through dumpsters to get simple supplies like grinding discs. From bad documents to missing parts, dropped balls are rampant in almost every industry. By correcting this problem with the right materials, tools, information, training, and work environment, a wide array of inefficiencies will simply evaporate. Your employees will jump to support any good-faith efforts that eliminate the inconveniences they experience.

Keep Your Frame of Reference on the Product

Different lean approaches have different frameworks. The waste-based focus of typical lean efforts tends to create an obsession with resource utilization, and it puts employees under harsh scrutiny. No matter how it’s sliced, no one feels respected when they think they’re being criticized.

By contrast, an approach to lean called “product-centricity” relentlessly focuses on a product’s quality and timeliness. In other words, every event is looked at from the product’s standpoint. By maintaining a product-centric frame of reference, personnel aren’t put on the defensive.

For example, if an employee has to walk several hundred feet to get tools, typical lean efforts will zero in on a person’s excess motion. Conversely, a product-centric approach looks at the same situation differently: the product has to wait for tools to become available. In this latter case, employees aren’t even mentioned. Approaching lean in this way deflects undeserved blame away from employees. In turn, workforces tend to embrace this product-centric version of lean.

Ditch Overly Complicated Methods and Techniques

Lean methods are often more complicated than they need to be. For example, commonly used tools in waste-focused lean include a 26-symbol flowcharting method (aka “Value Stream Mapping” or “VSM”) and the concept of eight types of wastes (aka “The 8 Wastes”). And these are just two examples. All this complication alienates audiences.

Instead of requiring employees to grasp elaborate methods, product-centric lean offers techniques that are simple and intuitive. Compared to VSM’s 26 symbols, product-centric flowcharting only uses three. In addition, as product-centricity strictly focuses on a product’s timeliness and quality, there’s no need to memorize or identify eight types of waste. Overall, a product-focused framework is simple, powerful, and appeals to a workforce’s innate common sense.

While there are all kinds of ways to adapt lean to your workforce, adopting product-centric lean is one of the most effective. In addition to being a system that employees gravitate toward, product-centric techniques offer limitless possibilities for building a better future, improving profitability, and doing it with significantly less effort. With a focus on the product, so much can be accomplished!


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by Sean Fields // Sean Fields and Michael Sanders are co-authors of Quantum Lean: Taking Lean Systems to the Next Level. They are a network member and the co-founder, respectively, of BeehiveFund, a nonprofit organization that assists small to medium-sized manufacturing and service businesses in areas such as production scheduling, inventory control, and quality-management systems. Learn more at beehivefund.org.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.