A prospect told me recently that he wanted to work with me to bring lean/continuous improvement to his company, but first he needed to “integrate it into his Training and Development” plans.

I told him that he was making a mistake, and that he was likely to fail.

If you frame lean/CI as a training and development activity, you won’t get the of buy-in and commitment from staff that you need. Lean becomes something nice to do, not something that must be done for the long-term success—and survival—of the company.

To be sure, when lean is done well, it IS a skills and human development activity. John Shook and others have written extensively about how lean is a socio-technical system, not just a collection of tools. And yes, some training is required to learn both those tools and the fundamental way of thinking.

But try getting a plant manager, or the leadership team of a company, to commit the necessary time and attention when they see lean as simply another training and development offering of the HR department. You’d have as much success telling your 10 year old that meditation and yoga are important for success in a PE game of kickball.

Whether or not you buy into the idea of lean as strategy, the results over the past 75 years show that it’s an unequalled tool for improving both the performance of an organization and the people who work in it. It’s not just a training and development activity. It must be integral to the way the company operates. You need to think of it as the way that you do business, period