Head vs Heart.jpg

Three days at the AME Conference in Boston showed me that there’s no shortage of skilled, knowledgeable, continuous improvement professionals who can teach their colleagues the intricacies of lean.

Three days at the AME Conference also showed me that we should spend less time focusing on lean tools and techniques, and more time telling stories that reach the heart.

Don’t get me wrong—tools are not just important, they’re necessary. But the energy, the passion, the emotion, the raison d’etre for the entire lean effort comes from the emotional power of stories.

Raye Wentworth of New Balance brought the house down in her keynote speech. It wasn’t because she’s such a polished speaker, and it wasn’t due to the huge reduction in inventory levels and space utilization. No. She moved people to tears (and cheers) when she played a video showing how their lean operations allowed one of her employees to thrive at work and contribute to his community after work.

Paul Akers intrigued the audience when he talked about his 2 Second Lean approach to improvement, but that’s not what really hooked the crowd. It was his videos of Cambridge Engineering, in which a new employee shook his head in wonder at how the president of the company knew his name before he knew the president’s name. (That’s the power of leader standard work.) And the video of another worker whose face lit up when he described the way he gets to use his creativity and imagination on the job.

These human stories are what resonated in the hearts of the audience. It’s the human stories that touch us, that move us, that inspire us. And perhaps that’s where we—consultants and internal improvement professionals—should be spending more time. 

Simon Sinek preaches that we should “start with why.” That’s a great rule. But we can’t forget that the “why” of lean isn’t just to deliver products faster or cheaper. The why is about making people’s lives better—not just for our customers, but our employees. If we do a better job of making that clear, we’ll probably have an easier time getting people to embrace a new way of working.