Weight Watchers no longer wants to sell diets.

After suffering a multi-year decline in sales, the company is now focusing on fitness rather than the strict discipline and self-abnegation that people associate with dieting. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

“We may be the greatest diet company on the planet but the consumer isn’t thinking strictly in diet terms anymore,” said James Chambers, CEO of Weight Watchers International Inc. “They aren’t thinking of diet and deprivation as the path they want to take; they’re thinking much more holistically.”

A key element of the company's new initiative, called “Beyond the Scale” emphasizes overall physical fitness, not just calorie reduction. Key to the change in focus was the realization that Americans still want to lose weight but they don’t want to give up too much. Debra Benovitz of Weight Watchers says that their customers "want a lifestyle shift versus a short-term fix.” 

This is a perfect analog to how organizations should approach their lean/continuous improvement efforts. As I argue in my book Building the Fit Organization, a focus on cost cutting (or dieting) is dispiriting and ultimately doomed to failure. No one (except perhaps the CFO) gets excited about financial deprivation. Instead, organizations must integrate lean (or fitness) activities into daily work. That means teaching people a structured approach to solving problems; helping them figure out how to make their work easier and better; strengthening the connection between all employees and the customer; etc. That creates the "lifestyle shift" that companies need for long-term success. 

There's so much more to physical fitness than mere body mass index. There's cardiovascular health. There's strength and flexibility. There's endurance. For organizations, there's so much more to lean than cost reduction. There's market responsiveness and agility. There's employee engagement and commitment. There's reduction in working capital needs. There's better supplier relationships and increased customer satisfaction.

Measuring only one element in a program, whether that's body weight (Weight Watchers) or item cost (lean) is a dead end that saps people's commitment to the process and reduces the potential benefits.