Your lean transformation is going to fail.


Are you considering a lean transformation? Don't bother. You're probably going to fail. The truth is, most companies are temperamentally unsuited for lean. Maybe management doesn’t have the patience and long-term outlook to stick with anything for more than a year. Maybe the executive team sees lean as just an HR program, or something that they can hand off to the quality department. Or perhaps the company’s leaders aren’t emotionally ready to make the fundamental change in leadership style from command and control to coaching and consulting. And maybe the interpersonal soil between labor and management is so poisoned by a lack of trust that lean will never take root and grow.

Good luck trying to succeed with lean in this kind of environment. You’re much better off just doing a few improvement projects here and there (with or without lean tools) to improve sales or profit margins. You’ll save yourself lots of money and time, and spare yourself a giant headache. A lean transformation? It’s just not worth it. You’ve got about as much chance as Donald Trump does of getting elected president.

But if, against all odds and common sense, you really do want to pursue lean, you’ll want to make these five commitments.

  1. Take a minimum five-year view. Consider any financial gains in the short term as a gift, strictly as icing on the cake. If you really want to transform your organization, it’s going to take a long time to change the fundamental thinking and culture of your firm.
  2. Hire a coach for everyone on the leadership team—including the CEO. Give the coach tools to hold execs accountable for changing their behaviors. (Hmm, performance reviews and pay docking?)
  3. Get rid of executive offices. Move everyone onto the floor in their respective functional areas. Require that senior leaders spend a certain amount of time each month doing one of the front line tasks in their departments.
  4. Insist that all members of the leadership team attend at least one improvement conference per year.
  5. Commit to a policy of no layoffs as a result of improvements.

Making these commitments won’t guarantee success in your lean journey. But without them, you’ll almost certainly fail.

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