The concept behind Lean is simple, but sustaining Lean practices long-term is hard. Lean is the process of removing waste from any process throughout the organization. This is an ambitious goal, and a proven way to achieve and maintain it is through developing a Lean Culture.

A Lean Culture encourages all workers to contribute ideas, responds quickly to suggestions for improvement, provides a collaborative learning environment, seeks perfection in its products, services and processes, and enjoys the visible support of all employees and leaders.

Here are five ways to promote a lean culture in your organization:

  1. Focus on the customer. The goal of Lean is to provide the customer exactly the right product, on time and without flaws.  Develop collaborative relationships with your customers in order to get ideas for improvements and cost-savings. For example, HMA Fire Apparatus works directly with firefighters for product testing, ideas and feedback.
  2. Communicate a clear vision for the company. Lean is the path to achieving business objectives, and it requires on-going executive support. Jeff Van Straten of Dutchland Plastics emphasized the importance of developing a clear vision for the company and sharing strategic objectives.  “Now, everything we do ties back to one of these three objectives,” said Van Straten. A successful Lean Culture requires a strong commitment and investment from company management to make sure employees feel their input is valued and encouraged. “Because Lean Culture starts at the top, we focused on the leadership team and changed the way we interacted with employees in order to enhance employee engagement,” said Charlie Leiby of Centerline Machine.
  3. Establish performance metrics and share them with everyone. At DeCrane Aircraft Seating Company, a critical early step in developing Lean Culture involved a Lean assessment, which provides a snapshot of where the company stands on day one. Performance metrics were established in the areas of quality, cost, safety and delivery. These metrics are tracked and posted for everyone to see to encourage participation and suggestions for improvements.
  4. Provide Lean training. The best way to learn is hands-on, and a core method used to implement Lean is the Kaizen blitz.  Kaizen blitzes are intensive one- or two-day sessions focused on applying lean principles. According to George Koenigsaecker, a thought leader in Lean Culture, Kaizen events “actually redesign processes and deliver results, but they also are the key way anyone learns to understand the practice of lean, and they accumulate into building a new culture—a learning culture.”
  5. Live Lean. Sustaining Lean practices requires continual effort and commitment. GenMet recently conducted its third shop floor lean manufacturing training program. Training is repeated every two or three years for new people and to refresh long-term employees to help them continually think about eliminating non-value-added activities – the waste that is hardest to see and address.

The benefits of Lean Culture and Lean Leadership include retention of good employees, an improved bottom line, sales and revenue growth and sustainable improvements. Companies can realize short-term gains by spending money on training and new equipment, but without building a Lean Culture, sustainable, long-term gains are unlikely. Lean Culture is crucial in generating long-term results – continuous improvement is more than a technique, it’s a way of life.

To find out how WMEP can help your company build a Lean Culture, contact Jim Sullivan at 608.354.1346 [email protected].