Being Comfortable Being Naked

Like writing, lean manufacturing requires people to be comfortable in their own skin while checking any ego issues at the door.


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There’s inherent nakedness involved in writing for a magazine (stay with me on this). The articles and columns my fellow editors and I write for Modern end up in print and online, bare and unprotected for the world to see. This requires us to be comfortable in our own skin, warts and all, as we transform our thoughts, ideas and premises into words, sentences and paragraphs for the manufacturing community’s consideration.
We also can’t have such big heads that we’re not able to accept constructive criticism from fellow editors who proof our articles looking for grammar goofs, subpar sentence structure and the like. Their suggestions invariably result in a better read, and the cumulative effect is a better overall magazine.
There are aspects of lean manufacturing that call for a similar degree of ease, honesty and humility from both employees and management. For instance, the only way a lean culture can take root is for everyone—not just owners or managers—to be engaged and on board with continually identifying waste and establishing ways to become more efficient (this is the case with Pro CNC, the shop profiled in this story). Lean plateaus or stalls when only a company’s higher-ups drive change initiatives. Total involvement requires that employees are comfortable suggesting changes with no fear that their ideas might be thought of as inane. Therefore, management must work to establish an environment that fosters openness and conveys to employees that all suggestions will be thoughtfully considered. Plus, it should be clear that even suggestions for small changes are welcome, as those accrue over time.
In turn, good lean managers and owners must table any ego issues when employees point out supervisors’ mistakes. Management also must be able to recognize that the company has process limitations and, in instances in which a lean consultant is hired, accept constructive (possibly blunt) criticism when shortcomings and inefficiencies are highlighted.
Paul Akers, a lean guru and owner of a successful product development company called FastCap, touches on that concept in his book “2 Second Lean.” This supports his notion that there’s one additional form of waste that should be added to lean’s traditional seven: underutilized employee know-how and brain power.
Operations are either lean or they’re not. There’s no half way. That’s why it’s critical to mind the people part of lean. True lean can only be achieved when all are on board, focused on the same goal and comfortable with their role in helping the company become more efficient and successful.