Lean is hope, but not in the sense of ‘I hope things get better.’ That’s hope as powerlessness. Lean is powerful.

I got thinking about this after writing my post The Road to Lean, Part 2: Improvement Cultures. Different improvement approaches create different business cultures and these cultures accept change more or less.

Without hope, it’s hard to accept change. Cultures of frustration, stagnation and anxiety are short on hope. They’re actually long on powerlessness to varying degrees.

A Step Towards Perfection Every Day

Lean creates hope because it’s continuous improvement. It’s a process of working together every day to make things better. It’s energizing to know that although things aren’t perfect today, you took a step towards perfection yesterday and you’re going to take another one (maybe two!) today.

Every day is a chance to make things better. Even better, every day is a chance for you, the individual employee actually doing the work, to make things better. Lean engages people in improvement.

How many of your employees have just given up; checked out from your organization? They show up physically, maybe mentally, but definitely not emotionally. They do the work and follow your company’s processes (no matter how convoluted and inane). But, they’ve stopped caring because all the times they’ve made suggestions and put themselves out there hasn’t made a difference.

In fact, they may have gotten punished for it; been branded as ‘not a team player’, ’difficult to work with’ or ‘a complainer.’ Worse, they may have received a poor performance review for their efforts.

Dude, We Suck!

Once, I complained to a store associate about something and he responded by shaking his head and saying “Dude, we suck.” I am NOT making this up.

Clearly, he was powerless and without hope. His only response was to commiserate with me, his customer, about the company’s poor performance. If the store manager heard him I imagine he’d have gotten a stern warning if not written up or fired.

Lean gives employees like this a way to channel frustration and complaints into something positive. See something wrong? Fix it!

Lean is Structured, Logical and Reliable

Lean creates hope because the improvement process is structured, logical and reliable. It routinely delivers results; in some cases, amazing results. When a problem crops up, people don’t gnash their teeth and wail “What should we do now?” There are steps to follow, namely the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle.

Write a good problem statement. Walk the gemba. Get to the root cause by asking ‘Why?’ 5 times. Mistake-proof the process so it can’t happen again. Follow up and make sure the solution is effective.

Where is your organization on the ‘Hope’ meter? Do people feel powerless or powerful? What behaviors do people exhibit and what do they say that let you know?

If ‘low hope’ is a chronic symptom in your organization, Lean could be an answer.

Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick