Five fundamentals to successful Lean implementation

Look beyond Lean tools to changing leadership behavior

By Dr. Gunter Beitinger Siemens AG December 28, 2012

A lot of companies are struggling with the question, “How do I become Lean?” Most are starting with benchmark visits and intensive training on Lean tools. They focus on the utilization of methods and tools like value stream mapping, 5S (sort-shine-systemize-standardize-sustain), Kanban, visualization, and communication concepts, to name only a few, and expect profitable results soon.

The idea behind use of such Lean tools is to gain transparency and to focus on the problem. This is generally correct, but if you would like to get sustainable continuous improvement, there can be a greater benefit beyond a tool set of methods. There can be a profound change in leadership behavior patterns.

Five fundamental jigsaw pieces of Lean methods are used in the Siemens Guadalajara facility, to get the real power out of Lean by changing existing management practices while incorporating the Siemens values of innovation, excellence, and responsibility. 

1. Review job environment and satisfaction

Before you get started with Lean workshops, it is important to review how previous leadership culture has shaped the work environment. It is well known that the work environment defines how employees will react on the Lean implementation. Job environment and satisfaction, also known as company culture, is closely related to the common mind-set of employees, which is directly related to their viewpoints, called paradigms.

Paradigms drive the way we think and act, and we cannot expect that a firm conviction will change overnight, especially if frame conditions are kept the same. Ensure that the frame fits the picture you would like to paint. Try to understand how your employees think in respect to the past and how leadership makes decisions. Then find the right way to create a motivating environment for the Lean journey you would like to travel with employees.

Because job satisfaction is internal to individuals and can be influenced by objective circumstances, we can get help by reflecting on traditional organizational psychological models. For example, at the Siemens Guadalajara plant, we reviewed what really moves our employees, what interests they have, and how they perceive social benefits and activities.

We reviewed if our jobs have accurate job descriptions and if people know what their responsibilities are. Also, we started to think about the “service” in our service departments.

It is very important to use strong visual messages to transmit and relate expectations of the pending culture change. For example, we gave office areas a fresh look with new furniture and an inspiring new color concept. We removed walls and individual offices as a symbol for open communication. (Siemens AG is supporting such initiatives with a corporate color and office concept.)

We visualized information about individual areas and projects, and started discussions in specially created open areas called Obeya rooms (Obeya means “big room”) with all information in front of us. (We significantly reduced the formal part of meeting organization previously.) On the production floor, we are planning to create special think areas with natural plants to promote informal meetings and natural points of relaxation.

These activities may seem trivial, but the latest brain science studies show how changing routines (such as prior work style and communications) affects the production of neurotransmitters in the brain, necessary for neuron connections via synapses. Anything that affects production of neurotransmitters has the potential to change how we think, as new connections are forming. Think about these exercises like the warm-up before the real game. Also be aware that when changing paradigms and behavior patterns, objective reasoning often does not help. We must accept that we will deal with emotions. 

2. Motivate participation

For organizational psychological models dealing with change, job satisfaction serves as motivation and is directly interlinked to positive results.

Also, it is human behavior to empathize with others’ discomfort and try to seek more positive circumstances. The best way to overcome social differences between departments and to harmonize expectations is efficient communication and participation. The two elements are strongly interdependent. Participation requires strong and focused communication with common vision.

Our management team worked out a very detailed vision and mission, which are directly linked to Lean activities. The Vision-Mission statement  also contains clear directions on how each individual can contribute to the vision. The statement was communicated, discussed, and explained via all accessible channels, and management expectations were made clear, with examples and metaphors when necessary. Metaphors are very powerful because they add a dimension to the explanation that was not there before. This is how people first get involved. If everybody is involved, expectations can be managed and harmonized.

In parallel, we formed a strong continuous improvement department, which contains industrial engineering, an incentive and suggestion system, and ownership of the Siemens Performance System. Once the Lean vision was explained, we designed an incentive system accordingly. Implementation was accompanied by Lean training for all levels (with tailored content), regular Kaizen workshops, clear definition of responsibilities, and a new matrix organization. The former organization was not supporting the idea of clear responsibility during the process and had to be changed to a matrix “Focus Factory” organization. The success of the Lean implementation is based on teamwork, and targets must be aligned to stay focused and keep spirits high. The new organization can support the Lean implementation in an efficient way. 

3. Demand leadership responsibility

If we use rational reasoning during individual performance feedback, it is questionable if we are always conscious of the outcome. The normal reaction is that each individual will discredit constructive feedback as long as it is in the range of his own perception.

We take care not to fall back into the billiard ball paradigm and leadership style of the 20th century (where motivation only requires external force). Leadership responsibility during change is sensible. Change creates stress on employees; leaders should avoid negative stress and support positive stress reactions (also known as challenge). Leaders should watch closely for negative stress reactions, such as threats, resignation, or illness, and work with those affected to create an action plan to lower the dissonance by setting achievable milestones, prioritization, or positive feedback. Stress also helps sort through, rate, and select probabilities for success or failure given available resources and capabilities. Leadership should ensure a balanced evaluation for all involved so as not to result in frustration or in underutilization of individuals. Stress is a necessary lever for change, and it’s on leaders to ensure positive change. 

4. Develop new behavior patterns

Company history regarding policies, salary systems, information, politics, and so on, is important to understanding how leadership will react to cultural change. You might be able to motivate fulfillment of targets by allowing use of existing thought patterns. If you seek a cultural change based on different behaviors and thought patterns, then a clear strategy must be followed.

The reason is obvious. Experiences and successes of the past are based on thought and behavior patterns you might want to change. Also, such experiences in general are individual and unfocused.

From these seeds, culture change can grow:

  • The more we think a given idea, the more it shapes our environment.
  • The more it shapes our environment, the more actions align.
  • The more actions align, the more they become habit.
  • Habits form behavior patterns.
  • Behavior patterns form culture.

For Aristotle, the physical world was ultimately real. For Plato, the world of ideas was foremost, and we, as human beings, can do incredible things with ideas. Therefore, leaders must become coaches who are constantly transmitting the idea of Lean. In practice it could be done as follows:

  • What are the standard and target conditions, respectively?
  • What is the actual condition now?
  • What obstacles prevent us from reaching the target condition?
  • What is our next step?
  • Is this congruent with our vision?
  • What have we learned from taking this step?

5. Insist on Lean methods and tools

Huge tolerance for not progressing with changes will be interpreted as doubts regarding stated values. Consistent use of Lean tools and methods is an important vehicle to reach your Lean vision. Integrated use of Lean tools is necessary for transparency, visualization, standardization, focus, and engagement. But the most important reason for using Lean tools is they are designed to train the new, desired way of thinking. Thought patterns cannot be changed directly. The brain relies on input of experiences, and thought patterns are formed more easily by repeated experiences. To assure the desired experience for your organization, the use of Lean tools and methods is required.

After implementation of a clear visualization concept and a functional shop-floor management process, use the following Lean tools to begin to change thought patterns in line with your coaching routine: visualization, 5s, value streaming, and use of the A3 method (the name comes from the German paper format A3).

Most daily problems and topics should be discussed at the shop floor or at stand-up meetings at the place of origin. A3 is an excellent way to structure and formalize how the problem will be solved. An A3 standardized approach includes analyses, problem-solving approaches, and results based on the Deming Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act). With this approach, everybody can get an overview on the topic, and the team can get involved more quickly. 

Responsibility, excellence, innovation

If we study success stories of change, general interest is concentrated on principles and tools, but the focus should be on finding solutions. Objective reasoning has nothing to do with how we will solve problems. Therefore principles, practices, and tools are important for routine and standard approaches and must reflect the thought patterns we would like to develop.

To create a sustainable Lean culture, we must critically question management practices and leadership culture. Otherwise we risk producing the opposite of what we intend. Work, social psychology, and latest brain research reveal how thought and action patterns can be developed and formed.

At the Siemens Guadalajara plant, we see these five jigsaw pieces:

  1. Review job environment and satisfaction
  2. Motivate participation
  3. Demand leadership responsibility
  4. Develop new behavior patterns
  5. Insist on Lean methods and tools.

As a circle of a recurring change process, if one piece is missing or doesn’t fit into the other, the change process will not be sustainable and efficient. For innovative, Lean cultural changes to occur, it’s increasingly important to have ethically responsible leadership. 

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