Lean Transformations Group

A Look Back: "Doing Lean Versus Becoming Lean"

Reflection is a key to learning. Occasionally, it is a good idea to look back and examine your thinking in years past. That is why I recently revisited an article I wrote for The Lean Post in 2014, “Doing Lean vs. Becoming Lean.” In this article, I suggested that many companies were rolling out Lean as a “program du jour” instead of embracing the basic principles of lean, thinking of it as developing a new mindset and practice.

Ok, has anything changed in the last 6 years? What is happening today?

The lean community has certainly grown and made some improvements. For example, I've noticed practitioners broadening their understanding of the Toyota fundamentals, recognizing that this lean thinking stuff is more than “tools” to be deployed. I have seen people practicing improved modes of communication such as humble inquiry and active listening. Many folks have become more capable of using the problem solving A3 to guide their efforts at improvement.

So there’s has been some growth but, people are still struggling to see bottom line improvement from the lean efforts. Why?

Many companies are still “doing Lean” because there continues to be an emphasis on rolling out Lean as a program and measuring the adoption of the tools of Lean as part and parcel of a command and control management philosophy.

These efforts are typically disconnected from the customer, too, which often makes it hard to realize real business improvements. Companies invest in lean, reorganize, add new experts, spend money on training, hire consulting firms, etc. … and get frustrated when they don’t see the improvement they expected.

To help organizations move from doing Lean to becoming lean, I’ve spent the last six years or so studying culture change and the role the leader in guiding an organizational transformation. I even wrote a book about it with Olga Flory. Our book, Transforming Leader Paradigms: Evolve from Blanket Solutions to Problem Solving for Complexity” takes a comprehensive look at what it takes for leaders to become skilled in culture change. In it, we describe two key take-aways (significant reasons why organizations continue to be “doing Lean, too)”:

  • We are living in an outdated leadership paradigm: Deploying Blanket Solutions instead of Developing a Problem Solving Culture.
  • Leaders are simply not aware of their new role in transforming their organizations and have not developed the skills for creating the conditions for culture change. The current mental model of leadership and how to manage organizations is still command and control at the end of the day, based on ideas and principles developed during the scientific revolution over 300 years ago.

Leadership is changing. The world today, your customers and your employees, are working inside a complex adaptive system where personal interactions are key, autonomy is important, and patterns emerge as a result of the connections between individuals. Leaders need a mental model that embraces emergence through personal interactions instead of attempting to control their teams and organizations.

As a leader, your role is to model learning, practicing, and changing habits as you focus on solving problems. Create processes where you are learning alongside your teams. Learn more about psychological safety and take it seriously, talk to your colleagues, and make the experiments small and frequent. We need focused problem solving now more than ever.

For a quick look at how to get into this new mindset, read these articles:

The Modern Leader Creates the Conditions for a Problem Solving Culture

The “First Principles” of Extraordinary Organizational Performance

Putting New Leadership (AKA Problem Solving) Principles into Practice

Significantly improving your
operational performance.

Contact us to learn more