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Is Your Lean Introduction Alienating Your Frontline?

2 minutes, 9 seconds read

Dan Markovitz Suggests Fresh Approach to Onboarding in Lean Frontline Podcast

In introducing Lean to peers and employees, do you start your explanation with a history of how Toyota revolutionized manufacturing? Or do you focus instead on the transformative way that tools such as 5S and gemba walks can drive improvements?

Actually, either approach can quickly alienate an audience who immediately thinks, “What does this have to do with me?”

For Lean consultant, educator and author Dan Markovitz, the first step to introducing Lean is to make it relatable. In Building the Fit Organization, Markovitz tells the story of Lean and continuous improvement through an extended fitness metaphor.

A more personable onboarding approach

“The problem I was trying to solve was how to present core Lean concepts in a way that doesn’t alienate people,” Markovitz tells Lean Frontline podcast host and Rever co-founder and CEO Errette Dunn in a recent podcast. “We’re trying to get people to think and act differently and the very first thing we do is put an intellectual hurdle in front of them. We force them to draw a parallel between their work and a car company.”

Instead, Markovitz advises a “gentler cognitive on ramp” to continuous improvement. By discussing fundamental principles and goals in relatable terms, Lean leaders can get more frontline members onboard. “I’m not saying people shouldn’t talk about Toyota or use Japanese terms, just not in the first hour,” Markovitz says.  

In an article for the Lean Enterprise Institute, where he serves as faculty, Markovitz describes his approach to guiding a company in the first steps of Lean adoption:

“[W]e’ve started by asking people to simply fix what bugs them. We’re not making people sit through lots of classes, we’re not doing 5S, we’re not trying to ‘move the needle’ on the business. We’re just trying to get people to see that the way things were yesterday isn’t the way they have to be today.”

By focusing on helping people over processes, companies may see a greater commitment to Lean over time.

As Markovitz puts it, “Sometimes we focus so much on the product or service we’re providing we forget about the fact that we’re a collection of human beings who have chosen to work in this environment together.”

For more insight on getting your frontline to adopt Lean, listen to the full podcast on The Lean Frontline.

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