The emotional side of lean

Mike Wroblewski

As we navigate our way in applying the lean principles within our own company cultures, value streams and business processes, it can sometimes feel like we are strapped in backward on a roller coaster with a blindfold over our eyes. We experience a huge range of emotions and feelings in a short period of time including fear, panic, pain, excitement, hopefulness, uneasiness, pride, adrenaline rushes and frustration. Taking the path on a lean journey can be an extremely overwhelming experience.

There is plenty of technical information on the tools and concepts of lean but very little on the emotional side of lean. We tend to brush over the emotional issues associated with a lean transformation as non-existent because this lean stuff is simple to understand, so how hard can it be to just do it.

There is also a tendency to look down on anyone caught up in these emotions as wimps. In my earlier days on the lean journey, if we questioned any of the lean changes in our company, we were called “concrete heads” or “barriers”. And anyone who did not get on board quickly found themselves looking for a new job.

In reflection, it was good to push us on the lean path because some of us would have never taken the first steps. We over came our emotions, struggled to get it right and eventually found ways to make it work. But I think it would have been a far better journey if the emotional side of lean was recognized.

By recognizing the emotional side of a lean transformation, we take the time to help employees mentally and emotionally embrace the lean approach. Some people easily embrace the lean approach while others struggle to accept it. When you have employees who hesitate making some of the lean changes, don’t tell them to trust you or just have faith. Unlike religion, which is faith based, the lean approach is better accepted based on experience, experimentation and education.

Tell them, show them and let them learn by doing. Be a coach, providing endless encouragement and even a little pushing, to build confidence to go forward. Just like when our child first learns to walk, as parents, we cheer, encourage and praise our child’s attempts to take a single step. Even as our child stumbles and falls, we continue to cheer and extend our hands out to support them. Before long, our child is taking several steps. We celebrate the success, taking pictures and videos. With more confidence and experience, our child learns to walk. Helping others on the lean journey should be no different, one step at a time.

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is president of Victory Alliance Technologies, a Greensburg, Ind., firm that specializes in lean implementation. 

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About the Author

Toyota Material Handling

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a ...