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Losing your lean momentum? – How to drag it back from the brink before it’s too late

I guarantee that many organizations right now are just like us. While we have scrambled to stay on track in an ever changing world of Covid-19 related restrictions and disruptions, our focus has been squarely pointed at coping with our insane pace of growth in a world where everything is harder to manage and secure. These days, the only certainty is uncertainty.

As a team, we have had a crash course in crisis management. While we were pretty slick before 2020, tough crises were few and far between and as a rule we could stick to our tried and tested experience to get through. In the last two years, we have become far more agile and adaptive to crises that would not have appeared in our worst work related nightmares a few years ago. We have become experts at calamity. Connoisseurs of catastrophe.

This in itself could be called ‘improvement’. Our systems are better equipped to handle difficulty these days, our mindsets are more adaptable, we are more immune to the unplanned and unplannable. This is a positive thing.

There is a downside however to always jumping from crisis to crisis. Long established practices, just developing self-momentum, begin to slow down without constant attention. Over time, common language, stories and activities that were once every day, become fairy tales told to new team members:

‘Back in my day Sonny, before Covid-19, we got together every month to celebrate improvement’.

That’s just how we did things around here, Fix What Bugs You, that’s what we used to say…’

It’s not that extreme really but its starting to feel a bit that way. When we look at our team members and realize how many have not had the ‘bread and butter’ training that we used to take for granted. That it’s been over two years since anyone made a ‘paper aeroplane’ in an epic battle to win supremacy over work in process and to gain bragging rights while learning about Pull Production. Yes, we could find a way to do this training remotely or develop other methods. Unfortunately, we’re too busy managing rapid growth, unstable supply chains and staff shortages to do it. As leaders, we can see things degrading in front of our eyes and we know that we are getting closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.

So what now? Do we impotently sit back and watch the decline of our precious improvement culture? The culture that we built over years of commitment and perseverance? The culture that defines us as a company and that has indirectly and directly delivered ever growing profits?

Hell no!

As a team, we have discussed the brutal facts of our declining improvement culture. We have highlighted where it is breaking down. We will not cling to doing things the way we ‘always did them before’. We will not insist on a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Instead, we will take ownership of and responsibility for stopping the decline. We will share our concerns with our colleagues and start developing new ways of showing our team members that we care about their input, that we want their ideas and that we are prepared to make the time to implement them. We will find new ways of celebrating their improvements. We will continue to implement big strategic improvement so that team members can see the company changing and reducing waste alongside their own efforts. We will find new ways to train and share knowledge.

So maybe, the paper aeroplane factory will be shutdown for a while, but like a phoenix from the ashes it will rise again. If we are prepared to keep the fire burning. And at our company, we love fire.

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