Monday, November 5, 2012

Bridging the Trust Gap

Here is your chance to take the “mean” out of “lean.” Management teams around the world have gotten it wrong all too often. Their belief that lean is a cost reduction program has alienated their employees. It is impossible to truly engage the hearts and minds of a workforce in continual improvement if they believe the end result of their efforts will be the loss of their employment. This misuse of the lean philosophy has created a deep and widening trust gap between hourly employees and management.

To narrow or bridge this gap one has to find common ground on which to begin a new lean implementation dialogue. That common ground is safety. Safety is a rallying point for all stakeholders. Unions, managers, front line supervisors and hourly employees will all get in line and support safety. One might think this would occur naturally but it doesn’t because safety in most plants is based solely on compliance to regulatory agencies like OSHA. To ensure compliance senior managers hire EHS professionals who then manage the safety program and it’s lagging indicators in a top down directive fashion. Using a lean term, safety professionals “push” safety and are seen as the enforcers of safety by the workforce. This legacy safety system, which also uses discipline for safety infractions, relies on fear to help ensure compliance. So how can you turn a legacy safety program into something that will build trust and become the foundation of a company’s lean efforts? Simple – focus on the continuous improvement of safety.

Safety compliance requirements will never go away. Someone will always have to manage compliance. But what is stopping businesses from viewing safety as just another part of their continuous improvement program? Why is safety treated differently than other business processes targeted for lean improvement? The integration of lean and safety is a natural almost organic process. A common example of this amalgamation is a safety kaizen blitz. The kaizen blitz (a team based multi-day rapid improvement event) is a lean tool used to drive cycle time out of a process like a machine change-over. Using this same approach to target the reduction of soft tissue injury risks in a work process, rather than cycle times, sends a different message to the work force. Removing the stop watch from the event eliminates the symbolic threat of job loss. Participants in these safety kaizen events walk away with a new way to view safety and continuous improvement. They view them as a unified approach to continuous improvement for making work safer and easier also reduces the cycle times.

Everyone involved in business change wants the “what’s in it for me” question answered. It is not the fear of change, but the unknown end result of the change, that keeps people from fully participating in lean efforts. When shop floor employees and their managers engage in genuine workplace safety improvement trust building begins for a safer workplace is a “what’s in it for me” outcome beneficial to all. A lean safety approach takes the “mean” out of “lean.”