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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: lean is not “mean”

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, December 6, 2009 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

In some ways the word “lean” was an unfortunate choice and in other ways a brilliant choice.  The intention was that a lean person is healthy in a holistic way–muscles in the right place, all organs functioning properly, able to hold up to intense exercise and even hostile environmental conditions.  It is a great metaphor for what the flexible, adaptable, solid to the core company should be like.  Company executives that treat lean as mean and use the tools to shed people, the source of the company’s health, are either delusional or do not really care about how the company performs in the long term.  They want their bonuses and a good report card so they can move on as a success.

Now what can we as lean believers do about it.  I personally have faced this situation with clients more than once.  An executive vice president or even CEO set the policy of cost reduction through lean and wanted people “leaned out” to literally be out of the building.  As a good lean sensei I barricaded the door, gave them a lecture on the 4Ps, and threatened to tell his wife about his affair with the receptionist and he immediately reversed the policy and became a model lean leader–NOT.

Actually I have come to the shocking discovery that even as a lean guru who has written a lot of books when it comes to making policy decisions about the company the CEO has more power than I do.  Maybe I will make enough money on royalties to buy these companies but until then we are left to live in an imperfect world where people with power have power and may not say or do what we think is best.  Personally I believe in recognizing the constraints posed by leaders who do not get it and doing the best we can within those constraints whether that is working to create models that both get the results desired by the senior leaders and illustrate a better way to do it, or leave the client-employer and find a better one.

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