Whose job is it?
September 20, 2023 | 11:25 am CDT
Brad Cairns, Quantum Lean

Lynn Thomson and I travel all over North America helping companies at all stages of their lean journey. The vast majority of calls we get are from companies that are looking to get started, and just need a little training and guidance on how and where to kick this thing off.

There are a few small hurdles that we have noticed over the years that prevent people from getting started. Mostly fear-based, and if you have taken our training, you know what we think about F.E.A.R. (false evidence appearing real). Think of it like bungee jumping. Its REALLY scary to walk to the edge of the bridge and jump off for no good reason. But generally, once you do, you say it was the most exhilarating thing you have ever done.

Here are the top 3 things we run into, in no particular order.  Can you spot the biggest culprit?

  1. We don’t have time for this lean thing yet.
  2. My people are resistant to change.
  3. I don’t know where you get started.

If you guessed #2, you’re pretty much a genius.

This comes in two forms. People actually speaking out against change and leadership assuming people won’t like the change. In both cases, it’s rarely the kid you just hired two months ago. Chances are it’s your tenured people, the ones you think you can’t do without, or the pain of losing them will be greater than the pain of staying the same.

I would bet this is why 95% of all lean transformations fail. At the hint of some push back from the group of people we can’t do without, we start making exceptions. Then, that’s pretty much the beginning of the end. They dig in their heels and win. Now they just need to wear you down until you totally give up.

This is about where we usually get the phone call. “We have tried to implement lean in the past, and it died on the vine.” The hope is we have some magical power of persuasion that will convert the old cranky ones into vibrant advocates for change and the lean transformation.

It’s true, we are charming, and we have been helping people for nearly 20 years. We have seen a lot and have tons of social proof that, in fact, with an open mind, this crazy lean thing can be good for everyone involved. And perhaps we can help get a few more on the bus that weren’t getting on in the first place.

However, (here comes that tough pill to swallow) they are your team. You are their fearless leader. If you can’t get them excited about something, then it’s actually you who needs the training.

All too often as we ascend the ranks, whether it’s through promotion in a big company or our own business starts growing, with every rung on that ladder you get farther away from being a woodworker and closer to trying to be Anthony Robbins.
Like it or not, you are now in the business of motivation.

This is why I believe the #1 mistake we make when promoting people is we promote them because they are good woodworkers, i.e.: They know the job better than anyone. Then we put them in a position to lead people, typically with zero leadership training, and expect them to be exceptional leaders.

And who’s job is it to keep everyone motivated each day, to educate them and get them excited about new ideas, like, say, a lean transformation? That right, it’s you as their leader.

This one is very difficult, perhaps impossible to outsource.

Imagine this for a second. You’re a general in the army, in charge of leading an attack on enemy forces. You have been struggling to convince your soldiers that it’s a good idea to take the hill. They will need to shoot some people, and people will be shooting back at them. The stakes are pretty high for everyone.

So, you decide to hire in a tactical expert.  They go over the latest techniques and assure everyone that if they listen and do exactly as directed, there is a good possibility of a positive outcome.

How inspired are your soldiers? Maybe a few feel better about it, but overall, I’d expect the inspiration hasn’t changed much.

This is the equivalent of bringing a “Lean” expert in to teach your people the tactics and tools of lean manufacturing. This is a necessary step — no mistake about about it — however, your team will be much more engaged if they are excited about what they are learning.

Lynn Thomson of Quantum Lean leads a training exercise. No matter how good the training, you need to motivate your people to make lean improvements.

Back to our poor general struggling to inspire people. Noticing the tactical training didn’t do the trick, what else is there? There is a saying that applies, “If you want to build a ship, don’t just drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

This for our poor general may come in the form of others who have done what they are about to do and were victorious! They could tell the heroic stories, the bonds they have with their now brothers. How there is no greater feeling than victory.
This would be the equivalent of showing your people lean companies. Groups of people that all had the same challenges as you’re facing and overcame them. The visual of walking around their factories, seeing firsthand how these principles are put into use.

And like the general struggling to inspire his people, this will surely get them excited, at least in the short term. Will everyone remember that speech? Or that plant tour? Will that one event keep them inspired for a lifetime? You guessed it, not likely. So, who’s job is it? You will notice no matter what you do, like a boomerang, this will keep coming back and landing on your desk.

Perhaps it’s time for the doctor to take a little of their own medicine. You are asking your people to change, to learn new things and practice them until its second nature. Looks like you have some homework to do as well.

A good start is the amazing book “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. And I will barf if you say, “I read that five years ago.” Not kidding, you should read it until most of it is dedicated to memory. Then scour the public domain and find the plethora of information available on motivating teams and dive in. And above all, remember: Motivation is like showering, best done daily.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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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].