Lean and Mean: Making Time to Achieve It

Lean and mean. Everybody has heard that one. In the business environment it means to trim the excess–real as well as figuratively–and do the work better, more efficiently, and with a greater eye towards quality versus quantity, and greater profitability. Unfortunately, as many organizations have found, as soon as the cheerleading is finished, often very little if anything changes. In fact, in many cases, these pep talks lead to greater complacency and frustration than before. Soon, instead of becoming leaner and meaner, an organization goes on as before or even worse. What makes the difference between one outcome or the other is the establishment of an official improvement time policy. Otherwise, the idea of a leaner and meaner organization will become a thing of the past, heaped on management’s pile of once lofty intents.

Once Again, But This Time With Meaning

It seems like every so often productivity gurus come up with something new that gets everyone excited about as the latest and greatest advancement in management theory. There was W.E. Deming’s “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle, Douglas McGregor’s “Theory Z,” Taichi Oho’s “Kanban,” Anthony Robbins‘ “Constant and Never Ending Improvement (CANI)” and many more.

The trouble is that often, after the rudiments of a program have been implemented, workers as well as managers eventually fall back into the former patterns. Why? Quite simply, it’s the age-old struggle between what might seem to be two mutually-exclusive goals: produce more versus system improvement. In other words, who has time for improvement if you are constantly being pressed for greater productivity? Or which should come first? Doesn’t one affect the other? Further, when both of these worthy goals occupy the same 24 hours, who has time to pursue them both?

Chips Fall Where They May

Too often, in management’s zeal to carry out programs aimed at improving quality, production, and/or other aspects, there is too little attention paid to how to actually make this happen, in other words, the nuts and bolts of how to make improvement happen.

Everyone knows people like this. They pop from the woodwork every time a new theory takes shape in the popular mind, only to soon have it fizzle like a soda drink left too long, until the next one comes along.

It’s these flashes in the pan who get all of the attention, usually fueled by little more than their own charisma, willpower, determination, and whatever else they can muster to sell their ideas, but soon disappear when often because of their own lack of foresight have not implemented the “how to” in order to achieve their “why to.” They often work to get out of the lack of significant change by saying that the extra “think time” was not necessary, but they also don’t realize that making these changes happen is not a matter of either luck or coincidence.

It takes time and hard effort to make lasting change happen. Fueled by the crucible of day to day activities, when done correctly there is always time to plan to improve our situations. Said another way, to borrow a common saying, “When you fail to plan you’re planning to fail.”

Set Aside the Time to Succeed

free-kaizen-guideDedicating oneself to improvement, whether it be for personal or organizational benefit requires time, both to learn the improvement methods needed as well as for the adaptation into our workaday worlds. Thus, if managers do not take the time and make the effort to incorporate improvement in their work they are not serious about the effort.

Most people don’t take the time and make the effort to improve themselves. Perhaps this is the problem with New Year’s resolutions. It takes time and effort to make changes in the way we do things, but it takes the time to consider and implement those changes if they are to survive in the long run.

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