CI 101

What is the right environment for improvements?

Previously, I discussed how the job environment affects lean implementation.  The company culture determines how employees react to the news regarding continuous improvement or lean implementation.  The reaction goes from confusion to disbelieve.  If leadership credibility is not the best, many will think that this is the flavor of the month and will unconsciously sabotage the efforts.  Once an organization starts down this road, it must keep going, or risk losing all credibility.  

In my experience, there are three characteristics or values that describe the right environment for implementation.  If they are not part of the culture, continuous improvement will be just a dream.  Those values are the following.

Respect for the people

Respect for the people is at the core of lean thinking.  The team is the heart of the lean system, as leaders, it is our responsibility to develop, empower, recognize, and provide learning and growing opportunities for our team.  One way to show respect is the creation of fair rewarding and pay systems.  Although money is not the best way to show appreciation, it is important.  For some leaders, the biggest challenge is to learn how to treat their team as people and not just employees.  Leaders should actively listen to understand their team concerns, what they care about, and ideas.  Respectful treatment and rules are the same for everybody regardless of the role or years of service.  Consistency and kindness create the trust environment that is critical for the next value, learning.  

Learning

To practice continuous improvement, you need to break with traditional ways of thinking and doing things.  You will need to learn new ways of doing old tasks.  CI will expose new problems and bigger challenges; therefore, learning requires discipline and persistence to keep going.  The leader’s job is to find ways to motivate, unleash creativity, promote collaboration, and encourage people to learn by doing.  However, some classroom training on fundamentals is necessary for skills development.  In CI, you either win or learn.  Leadership has to bury the fear of losing and learn that it is ok to make mistakes.  Also, encourage the attitude of we can do it, instead of saying that it cannot be done.

Communication

Communication is critical to organizations, regardless of the industry, size, or CI status.  The biggest challenge here is learning to listen to understand, never to judge.  Promote a strong two-way communication environment is easier said than done, especially when the starting point is the traditional “I say, you do” management.   Effective communication needs the delivery of clear and complete information, which includes objectives, and the clarification of roles responsibilities.  People need to know how the company’s performance and plans for the future.  They also need timely and clear feedback regarding their performance.  These conversations sometimes are tough, but necessary.  Waiting until the performance appraisal time to give feedback is disrespectful and contrary to all the values listed here.

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