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Is slimming down the key to success?

By Sander Asma, &samhoud consultancy

By starting from the original idea of “lean” and assuming a new focus, a company can make great gains. The meaning of “lean” is “without fat” or “agile”, and it describes a management philosophy that seeks to create value for the client by eliminating waste in the company’s processes. The leadership style is not focused on the vertical because lean means precisely stressing the horizontal (end-to-end) nature of processes. It can be said at the outset that everything that is done in lean management is concerned with excellence. However, the opposite statement is not always true given that not everything that is put under the label of “excellence” would be accepted under the lean management philosophy. Working as effectively and efficiently as possible is the way to ensure that the company is more productive and at the same time achieves an improvement in quality. Also, in accordance with the Value-Benefit Chain of Harvard University, more value for the client is created in this way while at the same time reducing costs. The improvements can be found within the framework of the company’s budget, the staff it employs and the quality of the work. The aim is not to dismiss staff, but for work to be done in a way that is more intelligent and pleasant. In this way value is created not only for the client but also for the employee.

Emergence of the “lean” philosophy
In order to obtain a deeper understanding of the lean philosophy it is necessary to know how it emerged. Lean will always be linked with Toyota, and it is also known as the Toyota Production System. After the Second World War, the Japanese Government started to make it more difficult for companies to lay off staff. The Japanese type of “lifelong” employment was in no way an obstacle for Toyota, which over 50 years managed to find a way of creating a production system that was based on it. This model was very well known throughout the world, but it was practically impossible to copy. The secret was not only to be found in the tools and methods used, but also in the actions and behaviour of the employees. The human aspect of “agility” was practically impossible to copy. The authentic nucleus of the lean philosophy goes back a lot further than this, to the time when in 1896 Sakichi Toyoda manufactured a loom from which the textile industry in Japan was developed. It improved the technique, not only from the viewpoint of efficiency but also in terms of the working conditions of the people working in the factory. The lean philosophy also fits well with the company &samhoud, given that the secret of its success is based on the human focus. Our work is characterised by looking at change processes from a human perspective; our slogan reads: Together we build a brighter future. The goals that we pursue basically seek to inspire and connect with people.

Daniel T. Jones, Founder and President of the Lean Enterprise Academy in the United Kingdom explains that the lean philosophy, virtually from its origins, was perceived as a general technique that “is applied to the entire organisation and not only in the plant. All the office support activities can be redesigned using the same principles and tools. In fact, we have to learn to see our organisations as a set of horizontal processes or value flows as well as the more familiar vertical organisation of functions and departments. The vertical functions are adequate for organising the knowledge, but the value is created by horizontal value flows”.

The voice of the customer
The basis for any company to function in an optimum manner is for its employees to be able to dedicate themselves to their tasks under appropriate conditions. One of the guiding principles for enabling employees to effectively perform their tasks is client value. In its desire to achieve maximum client value, which should contribute to sustainable financial profits, companies would do well to direct their company procedures according to what has been called the “voice of the consumer”. This means that they try to identity the activities that add no value from the client’s perspective, but which are nevertheless necessary for the company’s activity. In this way the company becomes more efficient and, as such, leaner. This way of thinking and acting is summed up in the “lean” management philosophy.

Improving efficiency by bearing the human aspect in mind
The greatest achievements are not delivered by machines or the production process, but by the development of people: this was the conclusion arrived at by Toyota. It is not for nothing that we say that “lean” is a philosophy. It is not a copying of systems but a new way of working which focuses on continuous improvement. In order to be truly successful, the lean philosophy needs to be fully integrated into the organisation’s vision, strategy and objectives, in its way of thinking and in the modus operandi of each and every one of the employees. This philosophy is truly fair; because the stimulus and the changes are applied both top down and bottom up. Satisfaction and efficiency go hand in hand, because each person is the boss of his or her own workstation and everyone has to start using the capital they have, which is talent: introducing continuous improvement is not meant to make the job harder, but more efficient. It is therefore an authentic cultural change, provided it is done properly.

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