Keeping lean simple: Being an employer of choice
August 15, 2011 | 10:08 am CDT
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Last month I began a three-part series to dispel the myth that embarking on a journey to lean is somehow technically complicated, and at best very difficult to implement. I reminded readers of the necessity for a paradigm shift in the way that everyone in their organization views innovation. The focus was on the ever-present resistance to change and three common causes of this opposition that must be overcome in order to implement a successful lean manufacturing or lean enterprise initiative.

If a lean journey is attempted alone or with just a few individuals involved, it will fail. This is so critical that my focus this month is on how to make sure everyone will eagerly participate in your quest for lean.

First Things First

If you do not retain anything else from this column, remember that in order to have a culture of change throughout your company, each and every one of your employees or associates must enjoy working with you and want to stay. In other words, you must be their employer of choice — and not by necessity because they need a paycheck next week. If you have 75 employees, you need to have 75 hearts and minds in lock-step with your company goals and objectives, willing to do what is necessary to achieve them. I cannot overemphasize this point.

How can you create such a culture that is so critical in facilitating positive change? With permission from Rotary Intl, I am going to relate a true story about Mr. Herbert J. Taylor as documented in August’s The Rotarian Magazine. Mr. Taylor was appointed president of a near bankrupt Chicago company during the Great Depression. He soon realized that in order to succeed, the company and its employees must gain the respect of each other and of their customers.

He penned four questions to be used as a guide throughout the company. These were communicated throughout the organization and the company indeed turned around. Mr. Taylor gave the copyright to these questions to Rotary Intl, and they are known today as “The Rotary Four-Way Test of the things we think, say and do.” (See below.)

In essence, employees must want to work at your company and be happy enough to remain there if they are going to willingly and effectively help you transform your company into a lean enterprise. I cannot think of a better guide to create an environment that will foster this than the Four-Way Test, which successful business leaders and their companies subscribe to around the world today.

Is it the Truth?

When beginning the journey to lean, it is important to explain what lean is and why it is a worthy goal to pursue. When you explain that it is essential to make changes in the way things are done in order to eliminate all waste in the company, there is a tendency to interpret this as an effort to eliminate jobs. But when you explain that positive change is needed in order to survive in this climate of global competition, it must be perceived as the truth or employees may become skeptical and fear they will lose jobs. Remember, there is going to be resistance to change.

It is going to be so important to include a strong element of truth in all you do and say when interacting with employees. You — and all others in your organization — must develop trust within your company.

Is it Fair to All?

Whenever change or a new program is proposed, the first question most of us ask is: “How is this going to affect me?”

Having settled on the fact that you are going to be truthful in explaining lean, you now must make sure the implementation and the resulting changes will be fair to all employees. Whether it be layoffs, short work-weeks, or combining jobs into a flexible work cell, transparency and fairness in the implementation is very important. If the company is perceived as fair by your employees, this will go a long way in making them want to stay with you through thick and thin.

Later, when you dole out “at-a-boys” to those who are instrumental in your lean efforts, do not ignore others who contributed — even if they were in a minor supporting role. And when considering suggestions from employees on how to reduce waste, treat all ideas with equal respect and fairness.

Will it Build Goodwill?

Some managers like to take exception to the relevance of this question. After all, tough decisions must be made in business. While this is true, the way you go about addressing issues will determine if it builds goodwill and better friendships. These four questions work together, and if you are working with a truth and trying to be fair, you can approach any issue in a way that will build goodwill and better friendships. I look at this as one of the major leadership roles one has as a manager.

Some may say that this is not a useful question because what may build goodwill and better friendships for some, may not for others. But, if you want to be successful in employee recruitment and retention, every member of management should constantly be aware of this question.

As you move toward a lean enterprise, you will make everyone’s job easier as waste of all kind is eliminated. This will build tremendous goodwill as quality and production problems begin to disappear and are no longer a headache to the production workers, customer service representatives, salespeople, etc.

Will it be Beneficial to All?

The best thing about using the Rotary Four-Way Test in your business is that it makes you think through the consequences of your actions. It is a powerful management tool that forces you to do this. If you and your company are perceived as always making decisions that will benefit everyone in the company, the major cause of resistance to change will be removed.

A lean company is just another way of defining an efficient company, where workers do not have to waste time and energy walking all around the factory looking for things or to move products a mile (figuratively) in the manufacturing process. A lean company is just another way of describing a company tuned in to its customers’ requirements. Lean can also be used to denote a tough competitor with shorter lead times that is gaining market share.

I could go on and on, but the point is that all of these are beneficial to all concerned. Customers are happier with the increased value of the products or service they receive and the workers benefit from job security.

The Last Word

Some readers may be tempted to remind me that unemployment is so high that they will have little difficulty finding suitable candidates when they are ready to hire employees or associates. I would remind everyone that the goal is not just to hire people, but to train and retain them. Those who stay are the ones who will implement lean for you!

I hope you can see the wisdom in the necessity for becoming and remaining an employer of choice and how using the Four-Way Test can be a powerful management tool to allow you to achieve this within your community, in preparation for beginning your quest for lean.

Tom Dossenbach is the president of Dossenbach Associates Inc., a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail [email protected].

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About the author
Tom Dossenbach