Culture Change: Why It’s So Important to Lean Success
Leo Tolstoy once said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
How true that is. Sure, he was talking about the Russian Revolution, but the words of the author of War and Peace, considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written, are just as applicable in today’s manufacturing workplaces as they were back then. It’s especially true when manufacturers are going through the process of implementing Lean Six Sigma.
When you’re talking about a culture change as big as Lean Six Sigma (LSS), it can feel a bit like your company is going through a revolution. And as Tolstoy so astutely pointed out, changing the “world” — your workplace culture, processes and procedures — is all well and good, but changing oneself and one’s role in it? Is that really necessary? As hard as it is for many managers and top leadership to hear, the answer to that question is “yes.”
It’s hard to hear and even harder to accept because, inherent in the concept of change is the notion that you were doing something wrong. People who have been on the job awhile, from the workers on the front lines to the people in the corner office, are resistant and, dare we say, defensive about that notion. But it’s not about companies doing something wrong. It’s about finding opportunities for greater efficiency, throughput and, frankly, profit.
At USC Consulting Group, we help companies implement LSS. Our Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Dr. Frank Esposto, leads many of these implementations. But as Frank tells companies, LSS isn’t just about a new set of tools and operating procedures. It’s about culture change, too. And managers and top brass embracing that change is crucial to LSS success.
Lean Six Sigma 101
Here’s a quick rundown of Lean Six Sigma.
The whole concept of Lean started with either Henry Ford or Toyota, depending on who you ask. The idea was identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. Toyota called them the “seven deadly wastes” and that term stuck. At USC, we added an eighth. They include:
- Overproduction. It leaves you with unused product.
- Waiting. Waiting on the shop floor between steps on the line, or waiting on supply or even equipment.
- Transporting. Excessive movement of inventory, causing the possibility of damage, or even excessive movement within the manufacturing process itself.
- Processing. Do you have extra, unnecessary steps in the manufacturing process?
- Inventory. Too much stock on hand.
- Excess motion. Extra walking, lifting, reaching.
- Defects. Defects in product happen to the best of us.
- People. This is the eighth waste. It is about taking a close look at the untapped potential of your people.
The goal is to create greater efficiency on the line.
Six Sigma is a set of techniques aimed at reducing (in a perfect world, eliminating) the probability that an error or defect will occur in the process.
Together, as Lean Six Sigma, the two methodologies pack a punch of efficiency and perfection. LSS enables companies to produce better product faster, increasing throughput and quality.
Learn more about LSS in our eBook – Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?
Why culture change is so important to LSS success
There’s a perception out there that Lean Six Sigma is simply a series of process improvements designed to eliminate waste and increase quality. It is that, for sure. But it also requires the aforementioned culture change. A change in attitudes and behaviors. Everyone, from frontline employees to the corner office, needs to be on board or this change won’t stick. You’ll slide back into your old ways.
It’s vital for the workers performing new processes to embrace those changes. But it’s just as vital for managers and supervisors and the top brass to change, too. Remember, you can’t change the world without changing yourself first.
What managers can do to embrace change
In order for the LSS changes to be sustainable, managers and executives need to demonstrate to employees that they’re on board. And that doesn’t mean sending out a memo of encouragement. It means changing daily work habits, just like employees are expected to do. A few ways to do that:
Walk the floor. This is arguably the most important piece of this puzzle for management. Get out of the office and onto the shop floor. Get into the trenches with your frontline employees. Show them you’re all in.
Ask senior employees for advice and input. You know who we’re talking about. The men and women who have been on your frontlines forever. Shift supervisors. Trusted workers. The people actually doing the job day after day. When you’re in the process of implementing LSS, their input is vital. Not only to the success of the project, but to their buy-in as well.
Roll up your sleeves. If it’s crunch time and you’re shorthanded, take off that suit coat, roll up your sleeves and help out any way you can.
Over the years, we’ve seen how companies that embrace change will succeed in becoming more efficient and profitable. Those that don’t may simply slide back into their old ways.
For leadership teams leading the charge for culture change, we lean on advice from Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”