A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about Rube Goldberg Leadership, in which I related management and leadership practices to the 7 Wastes concept found in Lean thinking. That proved to be a fairly popular post by my modest standards, so I thought I’d take another swing at relating some more intangible activities to Lean fundamentals.
Within Lean, there is a practice called 5S. The 5S approach is a system for organizing the workplace in pursuit of increased efficiency. The elements are::
- Sort Simply put, get rid of the things you don’t need or use every day.
- Set in order For those things that you do need, keep them in a specific, well-ordered place.
- Shine One you have things set, clean everything. Take pride in your workplace, and make sure to develop the habits necessary to keep things clean and orderly all the time.
- Standardize / Systematize Make a habit out of these practices, to the point that you are always looking to do each of them a little bit better. Create self-enforcing mechanisms for ensuring compliance, if not continuous improvements.
- Sustain Make it such that you can’t not do these things. Allow each person in the workplace to continue developing new and better ways to maintain and improve the organization that has been put in place.
5S is often the beginning of a Lean transformation (although some argue that it’s a bad place to start.). Nonetheless, I think the basics of 5S can be used to create a framework with applicability far outside of its original use. Consider this:
- Get rid of old, outdated policies and ideas. Eliminate redundant messages, conflicting direction and confusing instructions. This is the “sort” element of organizational change. You can’t move on to you next state if you are hanging on to the vestigial remains of past policy decisions. They simply need to go, so that they can be replaced with something much more relevant. Cast off old ideas about your way of doing things that aren’t working any more and prepare to develop some new ones.
- Create new practices and develop new habits. For those old habits that are still effective, hang on to them, but look towards making them work better. You don’t have to throw out everything, but don’t keep things around just because they’re familiar. Keep things that work, and try to improve upon them. Where something’s simply broken, replace it with your best attempt at creating new practices. Since you’re heading down the path towards continuous improvement, it’s OK if you don’t get things exactly right the first time. In fact, you never will get things exactly right — that’s why you’re implementing a continuous improvement mindset.
- Don’t allow your new policies and practices to backslide into old conditions. Just because the new ways of thinking or acting might be awkward at first, that’s no reason not to keep at it. If you fail to “shine” things up every day bu making sure the new practices are upheld, they will slowly begin to look more and more like old habits. You have to guard against all your new ideas becoming murky from old habits that begin bubbling up to the surface.
- Create methods for periodically reviewing progress at regular intervals. Understand causes of slips and take action immediately. You have to make sure your changes “stick.” If you don’t standardize your approaches and create systems for catching deviations, you can just about guarantee that the backslide will occur. Discover best practices and positive deviants, and place them at the forefront of your efforts. Mentor, coach, train and hold people accountable. If changes aren’t working, find out why ASAP and nip the problem in the bud.
- Complete the transition to the new state by promoting participation, instead of enforcement. When employees start making decisions for themselves that further the organization towards the new way of doing things, it indicates buy in has been achieved, and that the effort to change will be sustained. Management no longer needs to expend energy convincing employees to accept the change, rather, the they need to simply fan the flames of enthusiasm. If employees believe in the change enough to start attempting further improvement themselves – don’t squander this initiative. Encourage it, and let the pursuit of the new ideal continue.