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Lean Leadership – Facing the Challenges of a ‘Culture of Stopping’

In Lean, we often hold up Toyota as the pinnacle of lean achievement and there is no doubt that they are the super gurus of the philosophy they have made famous and still live and improve on every day in their massive production facilities.

Lately though, I have been exploring companies with excellent lean culture that are more similar to my own environment. Companies that have less than 300 employees, are often privately owned and who are developing lean cultures in a way our team can identify with and emulate far more easily. In our company, we make less than 40 units of our main product per day, which is a far cry from the thousands of units that come of the big production lines of much larger companies.

When looking at these smaller companies, one thing is common to all of them. They all have a ‘culture of stopping.’

A culture of stopping is where each day, everyone in the company comes together to assess the previous days performance, to focus on and improve any issues experienced, to carry out housekeeping and improvement activities and to learn and grow.

A stellar example of this is FastCap, creators of 2 Second Lean under the guidance and drive of their their owner Paul Akers, spend 45 minutes to an hour each day, reviewing the previous day and learning about all kinds of subjects from lean to history before heading out into the workplace to Sort, Shine and Standardise (3S) and make improvements. This all happens before a single production activity is carried out.

Companies like Cambridge Engineering, Seating Matters and New Zealand Windows all have similar practices and the numbers of team member generated improvements at these organisations is staggering. These improvements have flowed onto to enviable business results and world class cultural environments.

At our company, we wholly believe that taking up this culture of stopping is the way of the future. Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to improvement, we’re no slouches. Every month we are putting up team member generated improvements and our culture of empowerment for improvement is pretty great. However, when we considered taking on the more radical models of FastCap and Cambridge Engineering, we realised there were some challenges that we hadn’t considered.

1. One department is ready and others are not

It’s really common for lean transformations to start in the production processes and work its way through to the business processes of a company. This can result in some parts of the company being more ready for change than others. While one area might be ready and able to stop every day and work on improvements, for others this would be a bridge too far. If something as radical as daily stopping for improvement only happens in one area there are two likely results.

1) Other areas are inspired by the example and jump on board

or 2) The area that went first feels like they are expected to do more than others and it creates conflict and resentment.

2. Senior Leaders have to lead the way

If you look at our example companies, it is common to find that the most senior leadership of the company led the way on daily improvement by starting the process in the bathrooms. Yep, the bathrooms. By taking ownership of keeping the kitchens, canteens and bathrooms clean and tidy and by improving every day these leaders showed through action how serious they were about improvement. They showed that lean could be applied to anything and that they were prepared to improve, regardless of whether anyone else followed along.

This is a very different approach to the traditional lean transformation approach where senior leadership announces ‘ we are doing lean now’ and by this they mean ‘I want this company to do lean and I’m happy to make sure it is done… others.’

Also, what happens when you already have people employed to do the kitchen, bathroom cleaning tasks? Lean is not about putting people out of work so what are other ways leaders can contribute in a visible and meaningful way that sets a great example to follow.

Our leaders are are great bunch of improvement minded people and I have no doubt that a culture of stopping is in our future but it’s a big mindset change, especially when leadership is busy trying to keep everything running at peak efficiency. It’s not as simple as just ‘ripping off the BandAid’ and if we were to consider this approach, we probably want to prepare well before doing it.

3. How do you have all stop at the same time when everyone works different hours?

In a company like ours, we have day shifts, afternoon shifts, and split shifts. We have different start times, staggered break times and many remote team members who are in and out of the office as part of their roles.

To create a culture of stopping daily for improvement, we have to overcome these challenges. Just announcing that everyone is going to stop at a certain time might create more negative emotions than positive.

4. Let’s just ease into it

Team members are often happy to dip a toe in the water before taking the plunge but in the case of creating a culture of stopping I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

On one hand, it shows a willingness to try but it also demonstrates a still developing improvement culture. We are willing to ‘sacrifice’ production once a week but no more than that. It shows that in general, the opinion about improvement is that it is ‘detrimental’ to production rather than essential.

The advantage of a daily culture is that it is, well, daily. We do it every day, no matter what. It is much easier to make an excuse to miss a weekly session for reasons of business, absence or just indifference. A daily practice becomes habitual and embedded very quickly.

Companies like Cambridge Engineering found when they moved to a culture of stopping daily, their productivity and capacity went up rather than down.

I have no doubt that our amazing team will overcome these challenges and move to a culture of stopping daily not far into the future but in the meantime we need to mull over some of our challenges and work out how to overcome them just like we would for any other opportunity for improvement.

What are your thoughts on creating a ‘culture of stopping’? I’d love to hear your ideas for overcoming challenges like these.




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