Sustaining Lean = Long-Term Leadership

Just this month, Robert B. Camp published a new book titled Sustainable Lean: The Story of a Cultural Transformation, and I talked to him about some of the topics addressed in the book. Most Lean initiatives begin with noble intentions but often plateau or fail to maintain the gains. It’s commonly known among consulting circles that 80% to 85% of all first-time attempts at a Lean transformation fail, and I asked Robert: Why does this occur? Here is his complete answer:

Lean comes from a culture, originally developed at Toyota, that understands that plotting a strategy requires taking the “Long View” -- looking for the best long-term solution, irrespective of what might be best in the short-term.

Making a decision to launch a Lean transformation is a strategic decision. It is a life-changing transformation, the equivalent of leaving the doctor’s office with the emphatic “lose weight or die.” You can’t perform a Kaizen event or two, any more than you can lose a pound or two, and declare victory. Making the decision to embark on a Lean transformation is making the decision to change life habits, and not just on the shop floor.

What most leaders don’t understand (and, frankly, most transformation experts are afraid to tell them) is that for Lean to work, leaders have to change. Leading Lean is not achieved by hiring a well-known consultancy or appointing a Continuous Improvement Coach -- It is achieved by effective leadership from the top.

Leading Lean means learning about the philosophies of Lean and the tools that issue from them. It means changing the way in which processes are measured and goals achieved. It means being transparent and living the life before you ask others to. It means holding everyone in the organization accountable for achieving expectations. It means a lot of mentoring and coaching and going to see for yourself.

Mostly, leading Lean is about a personal commitment to change.

What do you think of Robert's ideas? Have any of you been involved in a Lean transformation that has stalled or failed because key champions have left the company or the emphasis was solely on tools?