Think of Lean as Life Insurance for Your Business
Many years ago, when I first started my lean journey (trip to hell), my sensei told me that in order to "do" lean well, you need to find and communicate a "lever" to everyone in my company. A lever can be defined as a compelling reason to change in order to get everybody to "buy in". Without a good lever, it is too hard to convince everyone to change well established, comfortable behaviors.
Well that didn't take much imagination, considering for the first time in our life, we were faced with poor cash flow and the prospect of laying people off. Three hurricanes wiped out our 3rd quarter business in 2003 (we were construction-based) The "lever" was if we don't change the way we run our business, we are screwed. Just like my sensei said, almost everyone jumped on board and pitched in. It was still hard, but we were able to develop a culture of kaizen.
Then we started winning. Customers got their orders very fast, inventory was cut by 3/4, we had cash, people were rewarded with nice bonuses. We were able to almost double sales with the same 70 people. Our company was named one of the best companies to work in Connecticut 3 or 4 times in a row.
Then lean got harder. People start to think that we were done. We were lean!!! What's all the commotion about? Relax! Life is good. We might have started to get fat, dumb and happy.
Then Wall Street 2008 happened. New lever! No more fat, dumb & happy. People worked hard to cut process times by eliminating the 8 wastes using A3 (over 800 of them). The result? No layoffs, bonuses paid.
So, how do we do lean without a good lever? Think of lean as an insurance policy for your business. The premiums are the time spent developing people's ability to make improvements and solve problems. Managers need to work relentlessly to cut through complacency and "busy"-ness to make continuous improvement a way of life. Make sure you communicate that our prosperity and good fortune is not guaranteed.
Lean is easy when you have a crisis, and a lot more challenging when you're winning every day. Much of what impacts our business is out of our control. Lean makes us much stronger when the tide turns!