Does Lean contribute to a brighter future?

by Otie Hauser, &samhoud consultancy

Lean organisations are organisations with an inherent improvement mechanism. This mechanism positively affects the production process and output, but is launched by the employees. The art of Lean is to ignite this improvement mechanism within employees. This can be done through meaning: why are we doing this and what will we achieve by doing this? In other words, as an organisation do you have a clear vision of your meaning and contribution to employees, customers and society? Lean is so much more than a method to produce as cheaply as possible. It’s a philosophy of sustainable improvements for yourself, your organisation and society.


The Lean philosophy focuses on continuous performance enhancing achievements that lead to the best match between supply and demand. The entire operational process is constantly being screened in the search for causes that interfere with output in terms of costs, quality, service and safety. These causes are eliminated and the production process improves.

In order to start the improvement mechanism, a lean organisation pushes three big buttons.

The first button is the production process. Assembling a product, whether it’s a radio or a piece of financial advice, has to be done as cheaply and quickly as possible and result in added value that beats customer expectations. Production processes are not unique to car manufacturers but are as relevant to the financial services, health care and government sectors and even international development projects such as for instance the enormous logistical and long-term operation started after the earthquake in Haiti. Improvements can be made in any process, however small it may be.

The second button is the attitude and behavior of employees. Each individual in an organisation is part of the improvement mechanism. Each individual is an improver and always on the lookout for improvements or cost savings in his or her part of the production process. In fact, Lean is very personal. Sustainable improvements and outcomes are only possible if each person is disciplined, responsible and connected to the rest of the organisation. These characteristics are also needed to contribute to society. For example, Lean could contribute to the reduction of waste harming the environment. Or waste that is detrimental to welfare. That does mean, however, that each citizen should always be alert for possible improvements in their own environment.  So first of all Lean focuses on eliminating waste, but its result is always added value.

The third button is management. Managers roughly have three aims: improve the production process, improve the knowledge, attitude and behavior of their employees, and improve themselves. Managers must also focus on eliminating waste. Their pitfall is their singular focus on the process and the underlying figures. Lean could intensify their natural quality which is control. But managers add value when they combine inspiration and discipline, when their employees act out of conviction, not because they are told to do so.

A meaningful and directional organisational vision will help them to inspire employees. But managers must also be able to inspire employees themselves, which is why authenticity is such an important core value for effective leaders.

Because Lean starts at a personal level, it can change people and people can change society. Is it true? Can Lean contribute to a brighter future?


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