The People Factor

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Lisa Cunard

It is around 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, not any old morning.  It is a morning that I have been looking forward to with anticipation all week because it is one of the precious days of the week that I get to sleep-in late.  Why I woke-up with Lean swirling in my brain followed-by a strong-desire to get out of bed, and put my thoughts on paper is something I cannot explain.  So let me share with you how I came to learn about Lean and what was swirling in my brain this morning.

I started my Lean training about three months ago, working towards my Level 1 Certification. My class is not scheduled to graduate until April, 3-months from now, so I have a lot more to learn.  My experience so far, Lean training is like a firehose of information being directed straight at you.  This is not a bad thing!  There is so much to learn, to contemplate and concepts to be explored.  

Where to start?  This is the question I’ve asked myself, as many of the Lean concepts taught in class made me think in ways I won’t normally think about a “process” or “people”.  One of the principles of LEAN that I have a natural resistance to is a “no-blame” environment, meaning when a mistake is made the “person” involved is not to blame, the “process” is to blame.  What? Right?  To further explain, I think Lean’s intent, is to design a “process” so it is difficult to accidentally do anything, but the right thing.  To me, that makes sense (sort of), but if you are like me—my mind keeps inadvertently going back to the question: How can the “process” really be to blame and not the “people”?

I set out to learn more, outside of class.  Our instructor encouraged us to visit a website dedicated to Lean, the GEMBA Academy, which has over 1000 continuous improvement lessons.  The best thing about this website is they offer a large selection of Lean videos that are interesting.  On the website, I’ve watched two excellent videos, so far, “Lean from the Heart: by Karl Wadensten”, spiked my interest and was really helpful to me. I want to share with you some of what I learned about an organization’s successful Lean journey from watching this video.  It was filmed during an Iowa Lean Conference 2015, featuring Paul Akers and Karl Wadensten.  Karl spoke in great length about the “people” part of his organization’s Lean journey and that is where I’d like to start.

Karl shared, GALLUP poll results of a poll conducted in 2015 and it found that in a large number of organizations across the United States, organizations reported their employees were largely unfulfilled at work and divided as follows:

30% of employees – Engaged in their work
52% of employees – Not Engaged
18% of employees – Disengaged – Actively sabotaging and working against the company

I think the reason Karl shared this information was to illustrate that “cultivating a culture” in an organization is the first step in the Lean journey.  That resonated with me, I see it and feel it in the workplace and it speaks to the blaming of “people” that circles in my mind and how it all works into the Lean journey.  Another eye-opener was the Lean timeline of Karl’s company Lean transformation.  In 2000, his company began its Lean journey and they worked solely on “cultivating a culture” until 2005.  FIVE YEARS of working on the “people” part, of the culture!  The company didn’t start incorporating Lean-tools until the culture had changed until the “people’ had changed.  This was a light-bulb moment for me.

What is my point?  What pulled me out of bed at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning?  I think it was the need to share with you what I’ve learned from my personal Lean journey (so far).  My natural inclination to blame people for failures in the workplace has been validated in a sense.  For Lean to work it has to begin with people who collectively create a culture that is based on Lean principles and if the people resist or refuse to adapt to an ever-changing Lean culture, they are to blame for refusing to try.  At the end of the day, the key to the success or failure of a Lean transformation is people. People at all levels of an organization matter a great deal to the success of creating Lean processes that exemplify continuous improvement.  This is what has been swirling in my mind, and I feel I have a greater sense of understanding and peace with how a workplace goes from mediocre performance to continuous improvement and excellence.  Now, I’m ready for my Saturday nap. : )

2 Comments on "The People Factor"

  • Theresa A. Coleman-Kaiser
    February 7, 2020 at 8:04 AM

    Lisa, this is a great “from the heart” reflection. I really enjoyed reading it. First, I’m glad you are utilizing the Gemba Academy resource. There is a lot of great information out there! I am regularly preaching (and reminding myself) to ask “what about the process is allowing X un-desired outcome?” This takes the emphasis off the person and starts to shine a light on the process. I love the twist at the end of your post BLAMING people for refusing to try a new way of thinking. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Matt
    May 6, 2020 at 6:51 PM

    Excellent post and it is a great to see another person filling the kaizen thinking path! People and individuals are the most important ingredient in anything improvement oriented. We wholeheartedly agree!