Monday, September 29, 2014

Lean Safety Gemba Rambling

In the UK walking in the countryside is often referred to as rambling. There are trails and paths throughout the UK that ramblers can follow. Unlike in the US where hiking trails are almost exclusively on public land these meandering “rights of way” crisscross the terrain through private and public lands. Gates and stairs allow access over and through the fences and hedges that line most pastures and fields so that these historical routes can be traversed unimpeded.

On my recent trip to the UK my host had arranged for us to spend the night in a village just a few miles from Stonehenge. Both the visitor’s center and the world heritage prehistoric monument site were scheduled to close shortly after we arrived. Then as we drove down a gravel road to get a view of the monument we noticed a path leading to the Stonehenge site. Someone quickly informed us that the site, and the path leading to it, was now closed for the day. Our disappointment did not last long for he also shared the fact that just a short distance down the gravel road was a gate through which we could enter a sheep pasture. Once inside we could follow the unmarked rambler's path to a spot from which we could view and photograph Stonehenge. Unlike all of the tourists who had paid to walk a different path to view Stonehenge we rambled along a free access path.

Employee engagement is the only path a company can follow to achieve lean (continuous improvement) success. The definition of lean, to reduce the delivery cycle time to customer by eliminating waste from a business' processes, is simple to understand yet oh so difficult to implement. It is difficult because success requires the business culture to change. Much like rambling the meandering trails that crisscross the UK a business must define its own, at times unclear, path to lean cultural success. No clear straight path exists because lean is a philosophy and each business must struggle with the application of the philosophy. Therefore most businesses get lost on their lean journey.

My journey across the UK provided me the opportunity to visit four manufacturing sites. All were on the arduous lean journey with each tackling their cultural challenges in their own way using a variety of lean tools. At each site I led a lean safety gemba walk and on each one of them my fellow lean ramblers discovered the secret to employee engagement and culture change. Simply engage the people doing the work in honest trust building conversations about how to make their work safer and easier. Then work with them to implement those changes.

A few days before my departure for the UK I had the opportunity to facilitate a lean safety training event for a construction company. A company executive who attended the training and participated in the gemba walk sent me this feedback the week after the event.

"I, too, learned a lot. I've read several books about lean (but not nearly enough) and I've attend a variety of seminars and workshops, but you opened up a new perspective for me. The idea of recognizing safety risks as opportunities for lean improvement is unique. By making a work activity safer we also make the work more productive. I think most lean practitioners do the reverse - they look for waste in the production cycle, fix that, and then trust that the process improvement also makes the work safer. But having a worker-centric point of view makes the whole lean improvement idea more personal and grounded in ethics, which makes sense to me."

Lesson learned: Ethical, people centric leaders will lead their businesses to lean success while profit centric, cost cutting leaders will not. Even more important is that at the end of their working career they will be able look back and feel good about all of the people they have touched. An executive at an Australian company, where I facilitated a lean safety workshop just a few weeks ago, send me an email in which he stated the event had been a “watershed moment” for him. He made the personal shift toward people centric leadership. My goal to change the world, or at least how the world views workplace safety, is attainable but slow it its progress. Slow because I am convincing one leader at a time.

I am already beginning to schedule training events for 2015. If you would like to schedule a lean safety gemba walk through your facility let me know. I can guarantee, as we ramble, your view of workplace safety will be changed forever.

Cheers mates. Stay safe.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lean Safety Gemba Walks Down Under

I recently returned from a trip to Australia where I had the opportunity to conduct Lean Safety workshops in four different facilities. They were different because they made different products and were located in different cities in Australia. Their similarities were they employed people, had a company culture and wanted to move their lean/continuous improvements efforts forward. In that sense they were like every manufacturing business in the world. By now every business has experimented with Lean. Everyone seems to be “on the journey” and yet too many business leaders still believe Lean is a program. After much effort and very little progress a few of them finally realize Lean is a philosophy and a culture change journey built upon trust.

Lean Safety is the easiest entry point for those businesses to begin or restart their cultural change journey. Lean Safety is an employee engagement methodology that provides a mind shifting view of workplace safety. By giving focus to the impact of work on an individual, and then improving their work processes, multiple benefits result. Those who perform the work tasks end up seeing safety differently, go home less tired at the end of their workday and understand the answer to the “what’s in it for me” question that everyone asked to participate in Lean wants answered. The business also realizes multiple benefits - increased employee engagement (trust building), a safety culture that begins to focus on the continuous improvement of safety and not just compliance safety, and the cycle time of the business processes improved via the safety improvement activities are reduced which supports the goal of Lean (to reduce the delivery cycle time to customers by eliminating waste). That is why it doesn’t matter what you make or where your facility is located. Lean is a culture change journey during which management teams have to extend trust first in order to earn it. That requires leaders to internally understand, practice, and in the end become “people centric” leaders. They no longer need to have the right answers – instead they have to ask the right questions. Leaders unwilling to invest their time in that personal change should forget about Lean.

At each of the sites I visited in Australia I meet leaders who were curious about the Lean Safety approach. Three of the events were public workshops with outside attendees and one was an internal event attended by company managers from multiple sites. The sites produced diverse products that ranged from food to building and formed steel products. Yet at each site the cultural results of the workshop were the same. The workshop attendees were trained to identify Lean Safety opportunities, split into small kaizen teams and then sent to the gemba (where the work is performed) for their Lean Safety Gemba Walk during which they engaged the workers in honest trust building conversations. Each kaizen team then prepared a presentation to management and delivered their results to end the workshop. After hearing the report outs and witnessing the excitement of the presenters the managers who had been curious about Lean Safety now clearly understood the power of this approach.

The internal workshop which had only company managers in attendance was very interesting. They, rather than just looking for improvement opportunities, did a great job of reflecting and reporting on their own behaviors and acknowledged the need to change. It was a deep dive into the company culture that spoke loudly to their desire and commitment to real change in their business.

All of the events in Australia had been organized by the SIRF Roundtable organization. SIRF is a group of highly skilled facilitators who organize and facilitate common interest sessions for their member companies. I am now off to England to continue my effort to change the world, or at least how the world views work place safety.

If you are not already registered for the largest and best lean conference in the world you should do so. It is organized by AME ( and will be held in Jacksonville, Florida November 10-14, 2014. Just click on the website link to get more information. Or contact me if you have any questions.

My second book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Employee Engagement and Culture Change, should be available late fall. You can pre-order the book from the publisher, Productivity Press, or from Amazon books.

Stay safe!