Your Organization is Ready for a Lean Transformation Journey

Guest Post by Job Pan Pangilinan- Lean Adviser Seattle Housing Authority

Lean transformation is a cultural transformation where everyone in the organization is committed to make continuous improvement as part of each one’s daily work. It should not be confused with a lean project that exists only to target a particular operational ‘headache’. A lean project only takes days, weeks or months but lean transformation aims to continue within the life of the organization. It is a commitment that is made to change the way the organization – from the CEO down to line supervisor and customer-facing staff, or even the isolated mail sorter – thinks. It does promise to bring good financial returns, high morale to employees, nurture respect to all stakeholders and ensure happy and satisfied customers BUT also shows discomfort and feeling of intimidation to those who are not aligned to the path of transformation.

Why do I know that your organization is ready for Lean Transformation journey ( hereinafter referred to as Journey)? Are there some possible indicators of readiness? I had worked with and had known different organizations that took their journey from various industries. Let me share some of these indicators.

1. Staff know and are assured that they are empowered to engage improvement in their everyday dealings with customers

Training employees with lean methodology or lean scientific problem solving is one thing. Having to make them feel empowered to apply their learning at all levels impacting their customers is another. I’ve always observed that the employees desire to talk about and feel free to drive changes for the organization. I’ve seen that the moment the leadership willingly pauses and purposely listens to the employees on how to best serve their customers, the dynamic of the journey becomes so natural.

Now you are beginning to think that you are ready for the journey!

2. Both the leadership and employees are united to making customer-driven decisions and actions (and reactions)

I recall in my lean journey when a decision was made by an organization that met different opinions coming from various stakeholders. Everyone from all levels despite opposing views united to ensure a successful implementation. BUT a different reaction and outcome came from the customers that called for a 180 degrees turn. If faced with the same scenario, will the customer-facing staff express this reaction boldly to the leadership? And would the leadership without hesitation adjust and gear towards the customer-driven turn no matter what the cost even when it hurts?

I don’t know about you but business history tells us that if an organization’s North Star is the customer, it does makes sense to unite towards this commitment. The reward comes in the form of loyalty. By the way, that 180 degree turnt cost the said business organization million dollars to get it aligned back to a customer-driven action. Expensive decision but no blaming or shaming – it was a big lesson learned compensated back by customer loyalty.

Now if you feel the same way about being customer-driven when making decisions, I can tell you’re ready for the journey.

3. Everyone feels a safe environment to expose waste and own mistakes in the process

You’d hear in lean transformation that it’s not the people but the process. Leadership should promote that when wastes or mistakes are identified and dealt with, it is not the employees that are placed on the ‘spot light’ but the process itself. It’s the process where everyone focuses to problem solve and fixed. In fact no one should lose his or her job as a result of the discovery of waste or admission of mistake. Otherwise the employees would not be willing participants to the Journey for fear they’re at risk of losing their job. Which could snowball to something more disastrous or costly and at times could ruin the very business customers come for. Ask yourself if your organization is willing to embrace this culture of seeing wastes or mistakes as opportunities to improve and be better. If your answer is yes – you are ready. As long as you believe in your heart that you have done your best for the day and that you are committed to even do better tomorrow … a lean transformation is already set in place. Get ready for the Journey.

4. Corollary to having a safe environment – results are made visible to everyone

Is your organization able to show metrics that reveal where everyone is in relation to achieving set goals or are they kept hidden until numbers look good? Is there a supportive culture that provides everyone needed resources to be successful? In a for-profit company I used to work for, I recall a high-performing frontline staff being offered a promotion BUT strongly refused the offer unless the leadership is capable and willing to provide support and resources to make the staff succeed. “You’re setting me up to fail!” – the employee exclaimed. Is your organization willing to extend that support and resources? Will the staff and leadership visibly and openly show the numbers without any purpose of condemning the negative results but see it as an opportunity to make things right? Is it positively engaging everyone concerned to improve? If you see value in making the work visible and support the idea of supporting improvement and provide resources in making this possible, there’s no doubt your organization is Journey ready – in fact you might have already started without even knowing it

5. Ideas live on its merit not on who owns it

What will your organization do if an idea that seem right today proved wrong or outdated tomorrow? How quick is the organization with taking a different or modified course of action? What if the idea is owned by someone on top of the leadership chain? Go silent until the ship sinks OR open assessment on what’s working and what’s not? One of my favorite lean philosophy is “Fail fast … learn fast…”. If an idea gets implemented but soon manifested counterproductive, anti-lean, wasteful and compromises customer interests – will your organization make a quick assessment and reconsider options or just bite the bullet no matter what? You already know which sets your course to lean transformation.

Conclusion

Lean transformation demands vulnerability and a leaning bias to promote the best interest of the customers. An organization ready to take this Journey has a lens that sees the customers first as its mission – not for profit or any selfish gains. The employees are empowered and engaged by the leadership to contribute to the organizational success. The leadership has humility to take the backseat when subject matter expertise belongs to the front line staff while keeping everyone aligned to the customer-driven mission. Finally, idea lives in its own merit.

I challenge you to take the first step …” a Journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step.”

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