The Human Side of Lean

By on May 14, 2008
The Human Side of Lean
“No person is independent as long as he has to depend on another person to help him. It is a reciprocal relationship—the boss is the partner of the worker, the worker is partner of the boss.”
—Henry Ford, America’s first lean champion

Did you know that less than 30% of companies that start the implementation of Lean processes actually succeed? This is primarily due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what is at the heart of Lean. It is not tools like 5S, Value Stream Mapping, or Six Sigma. Instead, the heart of Lean is the set of beliefs about human beings and human behavior. These beliefs stand in marked contrast to many of the beliefs that guide the behavior of today’s managers and supervisors. Here are the beliefs that guide a successful Lean transformation – or any workplace initiative, for that matter:

Basic Lean Beliefs

  1. The customer’s needs are critical. If you don’t respond to the customer, you lose the customer and the business.
  2. Anything can be improved. Continuous improvement ensures continuing success.
  3. Quality is everyone’s job. Quality keeps us competitive.
  4. Involve the people who know the job best. This helps find the best way to do things, avoids mistakes, saves time, and keeps people committed.
  5. People want, need, and deserve respect. Respect enhances discussions and outcomes.
  6. Teamwork works. Teamwork means listening to others’ ideas and gaining their support.
  7. There is value in differences. Diversity adds value by offering additional perspectives and experiences.
  8. Supporting others contributes to success. No one works alone.
  9. Trust begins with you. Lack of trust can have a detrimental effect on day to day operations.
  10. You are responsible for your own success.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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