Better Lean Through Better Behavior

Lean initiatives that focus only on tools and techniques often stumble as excitement from initial achievements diminishes and the lean journey becomes more difficult. Behavioral change is the key to making lean initiatives sustainable and successful.

Increasingly more companies are citing lean initiatives for helping them respond to the market downturn.

In Stiles Associates LLC's latest Lean Leadership Survey, the majority of 524 senior operations leaders credited operational improvement initiatives for helping them respond to the recent economic and market downturn. Among the perennially most popular operational-improvement methodologies: lean, which in its simplest form means minimizing waste and adding value in every area of production to produce more with less.

"Over the last two years, leading organizations all over the world have had to become agile and resilient in order to effectively weather the severe economic downturn and, more recently, to be ready to capitalize on the apparent economic recovery," a recent report from Capgemini Consulting explains.

Based on a series of survey questions during the first quarter of 2010 from more than 150 senior executives responsible for leading lean initiatives, Capgemini's Lean for the Long Haul report concludes that "behavioral change is the key to making lean initiatives successful."

The survey results suggest the top challenge in implementing a successful lean initiative is ensuring that it is sustainable over the long run.

Capgemini explains:

As might be expected, bringing about the required behavioral changes needed to sustain the program is not easy and often takes longer to implement than the other aspects of a typical lean implementation, such as deploying standard tools and methodologies. However, the behavioral change component is, nevertheless, a critical element of any lean program.

When asked about specific lean challenges, operational leaders placed "behavioral challenges" well ahead of the deployment of a lean tool-set or the availability of resources. Specifically, nearly half of respondents cited "resistance to change/organizational culture" or "lack of focus/commitment for operational excellence" as key barriers in their lean journeys.

The findings point to "a familiar pattern whereby many organizations initially deploy a lean program that places a strong emphasis on using lean tools and methods to achieve quick wins," which "were able to generate a wave of optimism."

"Lean generates a lot of excitement and initial buy-in to the process and solution," Sue Gillman, a partner with Aveus LLC, says in a recent IndustryWeek report. "However, the test of sustainability is if you can move the people who instituted the change and the process remains robust."

Between 12 and 24 months after a lean initiative is initially launched, an organization either embeds the requisite behavioral change and sees satisfaction with their lean initiative increase in subsequent years, or it fails to achieve this and sees the initiative fall victim to others that might come along, according to the findings.

"In light of the research findings, it would appear that traditional lean programs with their strong emphasis on lean tools and techniques and much less focus on implementing sustainable behavioral change need to be rethought," Capgemini says.

Lean programs that have exhibited long-term durability share the following common features:

  • Leadership — In successful lean organizations, leaders at all levels in the organization lead lean initiatives by example: Senior leaders set guiding principles that establish ideal behaviors, and then challenge themselves and their reports to display behaviors that reinforce the guiding principles; for middle managers, lean behaviors often require new focus on ensuring that management systems are driving the right behaviors among their reports.
  • Recognition — Retention and promotion of associates possessing deep lean expertise is critical to lean success, ensuring the organization's lean DNA is preserved and sends the right message about the importance of the lean journey to the organization. To support this, high performers are chosen as "change agents" to drive lean initiatives in the organization, via strategically positioned roles that are cycled every 18-24 months.
  • Strategic Alignment — A successful lean program must be driven by a compelling platform that resonates throughout the organization, is clearly linked to overall strategy and reflects the future intent of the organization. The platforms that focus solely on cost are best avoided, as these are difficult to mobilize the organization around in the long term and often taint the program as a "headcount-only" exercise.
  • Performance Management — Organizations that are successful in sustaining their lean initiatives include a lean management system as a fundamental component of their lean program. Interestingly, sustainable lean programs are often oriented around a lean management system that provides the glue required to pull the process- and people-improvement aspects of a lean initiative together.

"A year into their lean implementations, many organizations start to experience 'lean fatigue,' which cannot be overcome through the application of tools and techniques alone: a fundamental change in behavior must also occur in order for the lean program to prosper," Capgemini concludes.


Lean for the Long-Haul: Why Behavior is Key for Sustaining Success

Capgemini Consulting, June 9, 2010

Spring 2009 Lean Leadership Survey

Stiles Associates LLC, March 18, 2009

Lean Companies Gain Even Greater Edge in Recessionary Times

Stiles Associates LLC, March 31, 2009

Survey Sends Mixed Signals

by Joe Jancsurak

Medical Design, July 14, 2009

Lean Crushing Six Sigma as the New Dominant Force in Corporate Continuous Improvement

The Avery Point Group, Feb. 17, 2010

Lean Confusion

by Jill Jusko

IndustryWeek, Aug. 18, 2010

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