Roberto Priolo is editor at the Lean Global Network and Planet Lean
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Why is lean change so difficult to achieve in times of abundance? And why does it seem more feasible when there is chaos? The author attempts to answer these questions.
Written by: Sharon Visser, President, Lean Insitute Botswana
Recently I came across a picture of Princess Elizabeth when she was 18. During the war, she was training to be a truck driver and mechanic, which got me thinking about leadership, where it starts and what it really is.
The image of the future Queen of England changing a tire on her knees had a huge impact on the British public at the time, especially because she showed respect for the people who did the work. In the eyes of the British, she recognized the important and honorable work of changing tires. In that moment, she was living her purpose.
I recently attended the Lean Summit in the UK, where I was fortunate enough to listen to a presentation by Serhii Komberianov of Lean Institute Ukraine on lean in a war zone. I was inspired by the sense of peace he exuded, despite the chaos, dangers and disruptions that Ukrainians now experience on a daily basis.
I realized then that I saw someone who lives his purpose and leads his team through difficult times. His weapon of choice? Removing chaos and creating an oasis of calm where productivity can thrive using Lean Thinking.
If we look at the roots of Lean Thinking, we can find an unexpected and somewhat stark connection to war. Consider TWI, which was devised to increase production to support the war effort during World War II, or even further back to the 16th-century Arsenal in Venice, where warships were built. Of course, this is not to say that lean promotes war. Indeed, I believe it strongly advocates "peace through prosperity." But the fact is that it is much harder to achieve a lean turnaround in times of peace and abundance (which is why we often use the mantra "if you don't have a crisis, create one"). But why does lean work so well in war or war-like conditions?
Is it a survival reaction? Or is there something much deeper going on?
I believe that in times of war - when Queens become mechanics and mechanics become heroes - there is a great leveling by a goal that people passionately believe in. There is nothing opaque about it and the consequences of not achieving it are clear as day.
What is the result of this great leveling and connection to purpose?
First, when we connect, we can create together, and when we create together with a purpose, very little can get in our way. This connection to purpose makes us braver, as well as more empathetic, because other team members fill the gap for us and we fill the gap for them. We have much to learn about creating the same strong connection to purpose in times of peace that we feel during a war.
Within the house of the Lean Transformation Framework, the roof symbolizes purpose. We learn to make that purpose clear, but rarely talk about the consequences of failure. It's too uncomfortable, too threatening. It's not like we're in a war, right? Maybe not, but for many frontline workers, every day is a struggle to make ends meet, feed, clothe and educate their children, or care for elderly parents or family members with serious illnesses or disabilities. If you were to examine this within your organization, you would be amazed at the burdens that ordinary people bravely and often secretly bear day in and day out.
I urge you to look again at your goal statement and try to see it with new eyes and understand that if we fail to generate the required income and stability in the workplace, it will affect people. What would loss of employment mean to them? While you are at it, try to see if you can give your brave people better days at work by showing respect for what they do and allowing them to do their work under the best possible conditions.
Each of us will do this differently, but in all cases we will have to follow Princess Elizabeth's example and be willing to accept the inconvenience of changing a tire or two.