How to Create a Lean Culture

May 27, 2009
Creator of 'Toast Kaizen' DVD offers suggestions.

One of the most interesting parts of a good presentation is the question-and-answer session that follows the scheduled talk. The better the presentation is, the more and more-insightful the questions it generates, in many instances. Such was the case with a recent IndustryWeek Webcast titled Creating a Lean Culture in Your Company. The presentation was given by Bruce Hamilton, president of the non-profit GBMP and creator of the "Toast Kaizen" DVD. Below are the edited responses to two questions asked by audience members.

Q: How do you change a negative perception of a lean culture when you're new to the company?

Bruce Hamilton: First is to take stock of where you are in time and what the organizational readiness for your company is. What level of support you think you may be receiving from management.... The best way to get a person engaged is to ask this question: How can I make your job easier? That is the question to ask. That may not be the charge from management. Sometimes lean folks are hired on to cut costs. But look, if you make the job easier, it will be better, faster and cheaper as well. And you will get that outcome. You're kind of managing in two directions. You're going to be working the person that you want to engage and also the person for whom you work.

Businesses unfortunately at this time may have been through two or three failures of this process. I worked with one company where I had to sign a piece of paper that said I would never use the word 'kaizen' in the presence of employees because it infuriated them so. So that's one environment. You have to take stock of the environment. But take a look at something where you think there can be a success and then ask that question: How can you make that job easier? You're not going to change everybody's mind, but if you can change a few minds then you have a peer opportunity to sort of say, "Hey Rick's a good guy, Rick's heading in the right direction."

You have to find a way to engineer a small victory where persons get the idea that whatever might have happened in the past, that's not where you're headed.

Q: How do we gain commitment from upper management to really start the lean journey? Sometimes there is a cost to make improvements.

Bruce Hamilton: First of all, don't focus on the improvements that cost, because there are so many improvements that are free. You may not believe that at first blush. I encourage you to get out to the floor and watch the work. Watch what happens. There are so many things that don't cost money. Just simple changes in layout. Now, obviously, if you have a plant that is built around a capital piece of equipment, layout may not be so easy but there are many improvements.

In terms of management buy-in, you have to get them out to the floor. You have to get them to understand. If they're in a different state, it becomes hard. But there are times when management comes to the floor. Let me list a couple of them: You may have a supplier day; you may have a very important customer coming through. And this is your chance to catch their eye. When you make gains, you want to document them concretely to show there was cause and effect that we made these changes and that these created big improvement for the company. You want to focus on top-line improvement. Management is very excited by increases in sales, less excited by reduction in cost. When you show that this improvement satisfies the customer, creates more customers, it generates more excitement. That doesn't mean we shouldn't focus on the cost reduction, but too often that's all we look at when in fact our ability to serve the customer increases dramatically.

Look for your allies. When deliveries start to improve, your salespeople need to be part of that, need to understand how that can be leveraged.

In terms of engaging, let's say, shy executives, name a prize after the president. Call it the President's Award. Set him or her up to go and provide good news to employees. [When] somebody's made a nice improvement, the president comes down once a month and offers the president's award. It doesn't have to be money; it's just a thank you. In that sense the president is now in a positive position -- is there to testify, to say yes, this is what we want, this is a good thing.

Editor's Note: You view the entire Webcast, go online to Creating a Lean Culture in Your Company. Five Webcasts are listed on this page. Scroll to the bottom of the list.

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