Monday, November 01, 2010

Driving Lean Across the Organization

One of the more unfortunate expressions, in my opinion, found in the lean community is “driving lean across the organization”. I hear and see this all the time. It can be found in lean books, articles, job postings, job descriptions, reviews, etc. “I want someone who can drive lean across the organization” or “To drive lean across the company, we need …..”

What comes to your mind when you hear the expression “driving lean across the organization”? How would you drive lean across the organization?

Is this what we really need to do to move towards being a lean company? Can we sustain efforts if we drive them? What happens if the driver leaves the company? What about respect for people or engaging the employees?

As a lean leader (both internal and external), I have been asked in the past to “drive” lean across the company. Having someone, especially an outside consultant, tasked with driving lean is not the best way to become lean. Sure, you most certainly will get some fast results but it will not be sustained and it may cause more damage to the organization than the gains you achieved.

To begin changing our lean culture, instead of using the term “driving”, can we choose better words to reflect a better approach? How about leading the way, guiding, teaching or setting the example?

Now, how would you lead the way? How would you set the example of the lean approach within your organization? Would your course of action be different than if you drive lean?

(photo credit: AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)


Mark Welch said...

The connotation of the word "drive" doesn't ring well with me. It has overtones of "force," i.e. "How are we going to force lean through this operation?" I would imagine in some manufacturing cirles, though, it may fit just fine, especially those with old-style MBO mindsets. I like the word "transform" much better - it's more neutral, as is implied by the methods: being out on the shop floor, asking questions as opposed to giving answers, seeking out ideas, challenging, letting people fail and learn through PDCA, etc. etc. Leadership through reasoning and learning as opposed to barking orders. This is transforming, not driving.

Jon Miller said...

You could also drive lean like a tractor, slowly, deliberately and while pulling along something that tills, plants and/or harvests.

Karen Wilhelm said...

"Drive" is the opposite of "pull." It makes me think of a time many years ago when I was sorting cards filled in by people who wanted to receive an industry magazine. One guy had fun by writing "slave driver" as his job title, but really it's not so funny, and close to the way work has been managed in the past.

Good lean work will draw interest from across the organization especially when teams are effective at removing obstacles and solving problems in cross-divisional processes. And most processes do cross divisions and departments.

"Transform" is aspirational. A target term along the way might be "spread" but really you want to draw the rest of the organization into the lean integration. "infect" is really what happens, but that's not such a good word either.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Hi Mark,

I agree. Transforming brings to mind a better approach.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Hi Jon,

I like your image of a tractor planting, slow and nuturing. I wish it was thought of in this manner. More often, I see "drive" used more as force instead of till.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Hi Karen,

Good comments and I hate to hear about the "witty" guy describing his role as slave driver. I wonder what his employees would say about him? Words do make a difference in how we appraoch and think in our way of working.