Lean: What’s in it for me?
November 8, 2019 | 2:27 pm CST
Brad Cairns is the senior principal at The Center for Lean Learning as well as running a woodworking business called Best Damn Doors in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, where he puts lean thinking into action every day. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].
At the Global Lean Leadership Summit in 2016, Paul Akers, author of “2 Second Lean,” pulled me aside and said, “Brad, you need to meet this guy from Germany.” Paul introduced me to Michael Althoff from Yellotools, a company that makes tools for sign makers and auto wrapping. It was very busy, but as we shook hands, Paul said, “You guys are gonna get along.” 
We went our separate ways only moments later, and the event ended before I could catch up with Michael. I wanted to learn more about him and his company, but there was a pretty big catch, they were in Germany, and I was in Canada. Obviously not feasible to go there just to see someone you only met for three minutes. So, what did I do? Yup, I went to Germany!
You only have to step in the front door at Yellotools to know they are one of the most unbelievable companies on the planet. You can see a detailed full tour here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0BPYO8TZ1I
Since that first meeting I have been back to Germany three times, and he has been to my factory twice. He has bestowed knowledge that blew the doors off implementing lean.

Selling lean

Imagine you are the owner or manager, and you announce that you’re proud the company is going “lean.” You explain the benefits for the company and its customers. Later that day, you’re wondering why everyone didn’t seem quite as excited as you. There is a very good reason: You had their full attention right up until the meeting ended without answering the one question on everyone’s mind. “Whats in it for me?” 
Like everything else in the lean world, it’s simple. Lean is a three-part deal, and it’s the best deal anyone can ever hope for at work. Think of any other deal or transaction you encounter daily. It is very rare to find that it is one sided. Whether you buy something, where the deal is money for goods, or you just help a friend move, where you usually walk away with a case of beer. The point is for it to work, there must be some give and take. 
Part 1: The lean deal starts with the employer, his or her part of the deal is to give their people the time to improve and grow, yes, during working hours. Lunch and breaks don’t count. You must train and support them, and find engage their creative genius. 
Part 2: The employees’ part is to make their job easier and to respect the customers’ money. Employees must engage in creative ways to reduce waste, which ultimately saves the customer paying for non-value added activity. This in turn engages the creative genius of each and every person. 
Part 3: The third beneficiary is the customer. They receive products with the highest quality, the best delivery at the lowest price. This allows them to place more orders, starting the cycle of the “Lean deal” all over again. 

Don’t break the deal

If anyone breaks the deal, the lean transformation comes crashing down. Let’s examine the chain reaction if the employer breaks the deal. If you do not give people time to improve, improvements stop. When your people stop making improvements, they no longer use their creative genius. It is no longer a place where they are heard, or challenged to think. There is nothing in it for them, except a paycheck, which is not very motivating. They slide back into just showing up and watching the clock until they can punch out.
Can an employee break the deal? Absolutely. The employer gives them time each day to grow and improve, but if someone abuses that time, this is a huge deal breaker. That demonstrates they do not respect their customer! Could there be a bigger offence committed in any organization? Reasons for this behaviour could include a lack of deep understanding about value-added vs non-value-added activity, which can be corrected by more training. Or, they just don’t want to change or improve. Lucky for them, the majority of companies do not practice lean yet, so there are other job opportunities out there.  Help them find a job where they don’t have to improve. Preferably at one of your competitors.
The only other people involved in the deal are your customers. They don’t even know they are part of the deal. So, they can’t break the deal. Just supply the highest quality products, at the lowest price with the best lead time; they won’t go anywhere else. 

Telling the team

Here are the basic topics to cover when you’re crafting the lean presentation to your team. 
Importance of the customer. Most people probably still think they work for their boss, and it’s the company’s money. It’s critical to understand it is the customer they work for, and the boss just handles their money.
Deep understanding of value added vs non-value added. This will make it impossible to run out of improvements to work on. 
You as the employee agree to look at things from the customer’s perspective. This means we all have to constantly strive to eliminate waste for our customers.
How the support structure will work from the leadership team. This includes budget, limitations and skills training. How will the leadership team remove the barriers people run into when trying to make improvements.
Explain the huge cost of giving people time to improve. Explain that an employer absorbs this each day for the benefit of the team. Some might not realize this is a direct investment in them. When they see the numbers, most don’t think how much it costs to run a factory for an hour, and that money is now being invested in them. 

What’s in it for me?

Most importantly you have to explain “what’s in it for me?” As an employer, you will give employees time each day to improve their work areas, be creative, solve problems and fix what bugs them. The employer agrees to invest in the tools employees need to make their jobs easier. The employer also agrees to listen when employees have ideas, and the employer agrees to make their best effort to implement all of those ideas. Employees get a workplace where they are heard and their opinions matter. In short, employees get the time and money required to build their own paradise at work, to make this a place they enjoy coming to. When they clock out on Friday, they are already looking forward to coming back again on Monday. 
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us, we are here to help you improve!  

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About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He also owns Best Damn Doors, a cabinet door manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ontario. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].