Lean philosophy is an employee engagement philosophy
You don't tend to see that written anywhere too often!
Many think of Lean management as focusing on cost-cutting, changing processes, machinery or technology to make widgets or services get delivered better.
But no. Lean IS a philosophy and it is the company employees who will determine the success of an organisation's Lean Journey, as it is they who determine whether the new Lean ideas, processes, principles will continue to be adhered to in their entirety or whether things slowly 'slip back' to how they've always been done.
Lean development shouldn't be complicated and nor can it be successfully imbedded without both strong leadership and excellent employee engagement.
However, this is most certainly often the case and also at the very heart of the issues around why so many organisations have ultimately tried and failed in successfully introducing a Lean culture.
Why does the introduction of Lean development and ideas seem to have a positive but short-term effect but then ultimately fail on so many companies?
From our experience what happens in these early days of the Lean journey is “the new toys effect”.
In simple terms, even those who haven't established the crucial link between employee engagement and Lean success, by introducing using the lean tool set in some form of intervention, actually (inadvertently) give the employee a voice - if only for a brief moment in time.
Seeing some success, these organisations often then get focussed on the lean tool set, believing it to be the reason for those early wins. They then continue to force the tool set intervention approach and totally miss the fact that it was engagement that produced the output. The lean tool was just the vehicle to create that engagement.
Overtime, parts of the team slip back to old-ways and work-arounds and perversely in some companies, the attempt to introduce Lean methodology into a company in these circumstances, can actually take on negative under-tones and perceived as an expensive, failed experiment.
In summary Lean philosophy is an employee engagement philosophy.
One that is in the first instance focused on engaging the employee and in the second instance focussed on the productivity benefit.
Its power is that through the Lean tool set it helps the leader engage in a consistent way, that can be easily reviewed and improved by the organisation, and that offers controlled, aligned empowerment and is also away that is easily learnt by any leader with the right mindset and attributes. And crucially, it is a way that is sustainable.
The sustainment of engagement offers the sustainment of Lean. They are inseparable.
The reason organisations fail to sustain Lean is not because they do not understand the Lean tool set but because they do not understand engagement and how to create engaging leadership.