Using Lean to Deliver Successful Change
You might be wondering what the cover image, of the University of St Andrews’ timeline, has to do with change, but it’s quite simple really: We use it as a way to say “we haven’t always done it that way”. During training or an RIE when someone says, usually frustratedly or offhandedly, “oh, but we’ve always done it that way”, we stop and whip out this image. “Oh have we?” we can say, with some degree of smugness; then the realisation hits. The University has been through a lot, and a lot has changed, in its 600+ years history. If we want to continue to excel, we’re going to have to keep on changing, and changing how we change!
It is fair to say that change for change’s sake is unlikely to achieve anything.
Bearing in mind how averse most organisations are to change, however, even when the many reasons are staring them plainly in the face, it is also fairly unlikely to take place. Much more likely, when an organisation can indeed muster the desire and courage, is change aligned to strategy, driven by an understanding of business needs, with at least some idea of the benefits being targeted.
Whilst this will carry a change initiative some distance, in terms of having a significant and sustainable impact on an organisation’s overall efficiency and effectiveness, this business-centred approach will always fall short.
Unfortunately, the problem is that, just as is commonplace for strategy alignment and organisational vision, change initiatives are frequently developed by a small team of senior managers, and delivered in a boom and bust cycle. For change to have the greatest impact on an organisation, however, and this is often left unconsidered, it has to empower the organisation. To put it another way, change must be people-centred.
From the boardroom to the frontline, no brain should be left unturned.
When the structures are in place for change to be initiated and led at all levels, for the effect implemented ideas have on performance to be understood in real time, and for all staff to receive recognition for their part, significant impact will be witnessed. When it becomes part of what all staff do every day, embedded within a culture of innovation and creativity, change can start to transform.
Lean, done properly, can benefit all sectors in exactly this way, by providing both the philosophy and methodology to enable staff to more fully engage with improvement. By focusing on the encouragement and release of individual creativity, enabling people to realise their full potential as part of a team that works together for mutual benefit, the Lean approach can revolutionise. People make organisations: To leave their problem-solving abilities untapped is to rob the business of huge amounts of value, and the staff who work there of a happier, more fulfilling work life.
It is quite simply the choice between embedding a negative cycle or a positive one.
One lesson we can learn from organisations who have effected transformation through the application of Lean thinking, is that when the ideas for change and improvement are borne by all staff, iteratively and without fear of rebuke, mountains can be moved. Fundamentally, it’s about changing how people think and feel about their work, and then giving them the means to do something about it, and indeed vice versa.
Lean helps organisations focus on the customer and what adds value from their perspective. It centres in on the removal of activities that don’t contribute to this and, as a result, optimises flow, whether it be on the production line or the delivery of service.
Yet despite how simplistic these principles are, they are too easily assumed and forgotten.
Another lesson we can learn from organisations that have implemented Lean, therefore, is that common sense is not so common and in fact in some cases is a radical shift.
Of course, doing Lean ‘properly’, as mentioned so nonchalantly above, is not easy. So, what must organisations do to ensure success?
First off, they must support the endeavour from the very top – publicly – and this endorsement must be constant, because culture change is not achieved overnight. Organisations must trust and support their staff, and commit to a culture of taking risk and time in the pursuit of improvement.
It is also important to ensure participation is broad-based. Not only internally across all levels of an organisation, including supporters and doubters, but also beyond the enterprise boundary to include suppliers and customers. Lean gives the chance to move away from the creativity of the few to the agreed cohesive creativity of the many, and from a management model of control, to one of facilitation.
Lean is about creating capacity for growth, not for reduction, and so it is vital organisations never lay people off as a result of Lean. Instead, they must use their staff to improve what they do. What follows on from this, then, is promotion based on interpersonal skills and commitment to improve the work area.
Finally, organisations must strive to decompartmentalise Lean and make improvement the everyday, to the point where they stop ‘doing Lean’ or ‘being Lean’, and start seeing observers coining new phrases for how they work.
– Revised from the original (Fin Miller, 2015)