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 (www.ame.org) 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!

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