Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Safe Path to Lean

A Safe Path to Lean

While attending the AME international conference, held in Cincinnati last October, I introduced myself to a lean thought leader and briefly described a book I had written that suggests to get lean you should start with safety. His comment back was that for most companies that is exactly where they should begin. I failed to ask a follow up question to fully understand his reasoning for supporting my contention but I know why I recommended it in book form -- because it works.

All lean leaders understand the path to real lean, lean that is lasting, is dependent on employee engagement. Resistance to lean that is predicated on cost savings has killed off many a lean effort. Because we work in adult workplaces the simple equation that cost savings = fewer employees is understood by everyone. To discourage this thinking a senior leader may state that no lay-offs will occur as a result of lean but this is not the norm. He could instead take the safe path to lean by asking his employees to focus on safety improvement and thus bypass the initial resistance to lean caused by mistrust and a lack of understanding.

Simply by facilitating safety improvement activities while using a lean tool like the kaizen blitz you can begin to train your employee base in the lean language and many of the lean tools. A team of employees given the gift of time to focus on safety will not only reduce injury risks but they will most certainly reduce the cycle time of the process they have observed. This safe path to lean can initiate a journey toward real lean for any business for it is build upon respect for people first and then cycle time reduction.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A safety first culture

Safety in this country is often touted as the “number one priority” yet a great deal of the safety activity in companies is driven by compliance to legislation rather than pro-active safety improvement programs. Therefore not much depth is evident in many safety programs. Contrast safety management, a legislated business requirement, with lean activities. Unless a lean edict has come down the corporate pipeline lean is optional. No legislation requires lean activity. What usually drives lean in companies is a culture that needs repair. A serious lean effort will tear apart an old entitlement riddled culture, with high costs and poor customer service, and build it into something new. Companies with ineffective safety programs that result in poor safety records also have a cultural problem. Present is a culture that does not value, or expect, a safe work place and therefore people act accordingly. The common element is culture – it is the root cause of poor safety and ineffective businesses. It would then make sense that some common methods could be used to drive improved safety and business continuous improvement programs.
It is my strong belief that a lean thinking approach to people management, one that views all the employees of a company as value added assets, is the right approach. It stands to reason that if the culture of a business is “how the people who work there think, act and interact” that you must engage each and every one of them if you are going to positively impact or redirect the culture. Following this cultural path is the true, no, the only, route to world class lean or world class safety.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Day one of not going to a traditional job after 40 plus years of doing so. Feels a little strange. I started the day by filing a form to create an LLC on the Illinois state website. Wihin 24 hours I should receive an email confirmation that RBH Consulting LLC is offical! It is exciting to think about all the opportunities that lay ahead. A chance to impact the safety of individuals by using lean techniques while at the same time impacting business results. As my journey unfolds I will post lean safety stories on this blog for those who have an interest in the safe side of lean. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to give up the security of a weekly pay check in exchange for a journey of personal growth. Whooo-hooo - let the journey begin!