It is no secret that when a lean implementation is undertaken, the key topic is change. What are we going to change from? What are we going to change to? Who will orchestrate the change? When do we need to change? In what order will we change? And always -- how fast do we need to change?
But the big question, of all the change questions, is: How do we sustain these changes?
Why is this issue of "sustaining the changes" so important? The answer lies in the question: Are we in this for the long term or will we be satisfied with some short-term gains? It would seem that the answer is self-evident. Ask any manager and he/she may even get irritated by the question. But time and again it is obvious that managers become enamored with short-term gains. It is almost an autonomic response. When you ask that question, pay attention to what they say. It may be accurate. However, more importantly, pay attention to what they do. Their behavior will speak more clearly and with more volume than anything they can say.
Short-Term Success is Almost Guaranteed
Take a lean-implementation initiative where management has decided to kick off the initiative with the implementation of a couple of lean tools, say 5S and kaizen, for example. It is not difficult for such an initiative to be successful in the early stages of implementation, and reviews at six months and even one year might show significant bottom-line contributions. Quite frankly, I can predict that the vast majority of these initiatives will be successful -- in the short-term -- even if no sustaining activities are designed in.
How can I be so sure they will be successful in the short-term? First, these are sound, proven ideas, and time and again they have worked. Second, the workforce almost always wants to be able to contribute so they will get engaged early. And third, the Hawthorne Effect almost guarantees there will be positive results.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these initiatives will fail in the long run.
Short-Term Thinking Rules, Frequently
Why is that? First, it should be no surprise, since Dr. Deming predicted that when he taught us:
Present Practice: Lack of constancy of purpose. Short-term thinking. Emphasis on immediate results. Think in terms of the present tense; no future tense. ("The New Economics" MIT, 1994)
Better Practice: Adopt and publish constancy of purpose. Do some long-term planning. Ask the question, "Where do we plan to be in five years?" Then, by what method?
Second, although managers and their consultants normally pay a great deal of attention to the first few questions, they all too often pay inadequate attention to the last question, the big question of, "How do we sustain the gains?" How does that happen when it seems so obvious that we should work to sustain the gains for the long haul? Cultural adage No. 1 is: "Tell me how a man is measured and I will tell you how he will behave."
Managers often are judged on short-term gains such as the monthly and quarterly operations review and the annual appraisal. And if you measure managers on short-term gains, you can expect just that -- short-term gains.
But what about the consultant you hired? Should he not give you the needed advice to direct you to a more balanced approach? Of course he should, but maybe he can't. Lean sells well, and there a lot of consultants out there. Maybe you have chosen one who can't discern if the system supports long-term gains.
Or maybe he doesn't want to. If you advertise for consultants and tell them you wish to kick off your lean initiative with kaizen, 5S or small-group problem-solving like Quality Circles, you will have consultants lining up by the dozens. Every one of them will be salivating, literally drooling at the opportunity. Why is that?
First, they know they can be successful because these are three proven lean tools that will move money to the bottom line. However, there is a more compelling reason they will line up. Pay particular attention here. Perk up and listen. These are three proven lean tools they can implement whereby the rank and file need to change -- but management doesn't need to change much at all. It is an easy sell with almost-guaranteed early returns.
And, since management doesn't need to change to get these early gains, it is predictable -- they will not change. You see, the workers almost always are more willing to change than the managers. Furthermore, after the initial results are in and the early success is quantified and documented, management and the consultant are further justified and spend a great deal of time patting each other on the back as they bask in their successes.
Model. Support. Reward.
Cultural adage No. 2 then comes into play, unfortunately. It is: "Any action you wish to see repeated, first, model it; second, support it; and third, reward it." That is what we are looking for when we want to sustain the gains -- repeated behaviors that support long-term cultural change.
Since management did not see the need to change, they themselves do not do any 5S activities, no kaizens or any problem-solving in any different way than they had done in the past. So they are not modeling the right behavior. Next, they get into trouble when their subordinates want support. Since the managers are not really invested in the initiative, the support is usually not supplied. Finally, they try to reward (and they normally do) by doing some superficial and normally counterproductive stuff such as financial incentives, individual and group award programs, or giving a cool parking spot for the best idea. They ignore all of the meaningful intrinsic rewards.
But at the end of the day, the rank and file ask, "If this is such a good idea, why aren't managers doing it? And other questions like, "If they support it, where is the support I so dearly need?" Then the well-meaning but poorly thought-out rewards come as a rather abrupt slap in the face, and the initiative is seen as the short-term, superficial thing it really is.
Soon the initiative loses momentum and eventually dies. When it dies, the morale of the folks falls immeasurably. You see, their expectations were raised in anticipation of being able to truly contribute and then get crushed in the fullness of time.
This leads to cultural adage No. 3: "No REAL change occurs until the management REALLY changes." Memorize that and use it as a very critical guiding principle.
How do you use this principle if you are trying to guide or assess a lean implementation? Pay close attention to what really is happening in the workplace. It is a good idea to listen to the "talk." There's nothing wrong with management talking up the successes and passing around some kudos. But be careful; do not be fooled by the rhetoric. Talking up the successes is a necessary but insufficient condition. The management --absolutely and unequivocally -- must be "walking the talk." For this there is no substitute.
Evaluate the Manager's Actions
If you lead your lean implementation with a 5S and kaizen initiative, evaluate what your managers are actually doing. Do they 5S their office and perform 5S audits, or do they just talk up the effort? Do they kaizen their own processes or do they just send out "attaboy" memos lauding the efforts of others? When you critically assess their actions, do you find a "cheerleader or a lean leader"? If you find you do not have strong lean leadership, correct that or prepare for a certain death to your lean initiative.
In summary, as you embark on a lean initiative, you will find the rank and file to be engaged -- almost always. As a result, you will see some early gains, occasionally some substantial gains. Don't let that fool you. If management is not actively modeling the proper behaviors, the end is in sight. A change in behavior at the management level is the litmus test to determine if this cultural-changing event has any possibility of long-term success.
Lonnie Wilson has been teaching and implementing lean and other culture-changing techniques for more than 40 years. His book, "How To Implement Lean Manufacturing" was released in August 2009. Wilson is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. In addition to IndustryWeek, he has published articles in Quality Digest and was a frequent contributor to iSixSigma magazine. His manufacturing experience spans 20 years with Chevron, where he held a number of management positions. In 1990 he founded Quality Consultants, www.qc-ep.com, which teaches and applies lean and other culture-changing techniques to small entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 firms, principally in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In particular, he specializes in "lean revitalizations," assisting firms that have failed or failing lean implementations and want to "do it right." In his not-so-spare time, Wilson is the men's varsity soccer coach at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas. You can e-mail Lonnie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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