My friend and fellow lean thinker Mark Graban just blogged about lean lessons from the movie, Central Intelligence, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. When he’s asked how he built his amazing body, Johnson replies:

I just did one thing… I worked out for six hours a day, every day, for the last 20 years. I mean, anybody can do it, right?

Mark comments that

When people look at organizations like Toyota or ThedaCare, they’re often caught staring at an “after” picture in a “before and after” scenario. Dwayne Johnson has to keep working out and eating right, just as organizations have to keep improving and have to keep doing the things that made them very successful. People often want shortcuts… easy answers… silver bullets… instant pudding. 

His comments echo an argument I made in chapter one of my book, Building the Fit Organization. Companies that successfully engage in lean make an unshakeable commitment to continuous  improvement. It’s not something they do on occasion, when they feel like it. It’s not an episodic exercise, like a plan to do one kaizen a month.

In fact, the pursuit of organizational fitness is very similar to the pursuit of physical fitness. As I explain in the book:

Don’t try finding a spot on the Stairmaster or in the spin class on January 8th. The busiest week of the year at a gym is the second week of the new year. Fueled by an excess of calories from too much food and drink during the holiday season, people make resolutions to lose weight, work out, and get fit. The gym is packed as tightly as people are packed into their spandex. Of course, by February the gym is back to normal. Most people predictably abandon their resolutions in short order—they’re bored, they’re busy, they’re sick, they’re tired. Life gets in the way. They lack the commitment (or know-how) to sustain their fitness initiative, and the next thing you know, they’re anxiously searching for diet and fitness tips to wriggle into their bathing suits for the summer.
Organizations aren’t so different from individuals. Preceding the new fiscal year, the management team announces its goal to capture the top spot in the marketplace, rolls out 37 new strategic initiatives, and vows to elevate employee engagement and become a great place to work. By the second quarter, it’s business as usual. Organizations get caught up trying to make the monthly or quarterly numbers; departments are overwhelmed by the multitude of new (and often contradictory) initiatives for which they lack the people or the resources; and employees feel no more connection to the company’s leadership and vision than they did before. The organization loses momentum on its initiatives, often fails to achieve its stated goals, and waddles along until the next annual strategic offsite, whereupon the cycle repeats itself.
For both the individual and the organization, the problem is the same. There may be a stated goal—lose 15 pounds, improve muscle tone—but there’s often no clearly defined program to reach that fitness goal. Or even if there is a program, it may simply be a fad that promises huge results with minimal effort: think vibrating belts, Thighmasters, 8 Minute Abs, and the latest diet pills. More significantly, for the people who abandon their fitness efforts, going to the gym and exercising is something that’s external to the daily flow of their lives. It’s a chore that requires additional time and commitment, not something that’s as fundamental and core to their lives as, say, going to work, or playing with their kids, or even brushing their teeth.
In the same way, most organizations have annual goals—take the top spot in the market, lift employee engagement— but they lack clearly defined improvement programs to reach their goals. As with individuals, there is no end to the number of business fads that promise to get companies to the promised land—emotional intelligence, six sigma, business process reengineering, management by walking around (MBWA), etc. But efforts to achieve those goals are episodic (at best) or sporadic (at worst), because they’re not seen as integral to the organization’s daily operations. They’re made “when we have some free time,” or before the boss asks about them at the quarterly performance review.
Truly fit individuals don’t so much make a generic commitment to exercise as much as they weave exercise and health into the daily fabric of their lives. Similarly, truly fit organizations don’t so much make a commitment to an improvement “program” per se, as build improvement into the way they operate on an ongoing basis, everyday.

Or as The Rock would say: “I just did one thing… I worked out for six hours a day, every day, for the last 20 years. I mean, anybody can do it, right?”