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  • Aaron Styles

Two Values of The Lean Way


I have established in previous blogs that transformations fail because of Organizational Context being misaligned with the methodology that the organization is attempting to adopt. I have also established that they fail when organizations execute their transformations only in the Technical dimension and exclude the Organization and/or Cultural dimensions in their transformation.

Misalignment in these areas is better known as hypocrisy, and it creates mistrust, confusion, insecurity, and inefficiency in organizations that do not effectively deal with it.

In this blog, I wish to begin discussing the foundation upon which Culture is built and with which Organizational Context must be aligned: Values and Principles. Misalignment in these areas is better known as hypocrisy, and it creates mistrust, confusion, insecurity, and inefficiency in organizations that do not effectively deal with it.


If the Organizational Context must support any transformation, and a dimension of that transformation is Cultural in nature, then one of the most important first steps will be to understand the Values and Principles that must be the foundation of the Culture that needs to be built. Before we discuss the Values and Principles, let's understand the difference between the two. Values are qualities or standards that define what is most important to an organization. Principles are rules or beliefs that govern our actions. The main difference between values and principles is that principles are based on an organization's values. Thus, it is values that act as the foundation for principles.


The two Values are the most important areas where management thinking must first change. I will explore them in this blog. They are Learning Organization and Respect for People. The five Principles are built upon the Values and I will discuss them in my next Blog. They are Long-Term Vision, Total-System Focus, Quality First, Customer-Focus, and Process-Centered.


Let’s begin with Learning Organization, why is that so important? Here is a partial list of things that will only consistently take place in a Learning Organization:

  • All leaders will care why their operation missed its target during the 9am hour today, drive it to root cause and eliminate the root cause.

  • All individual contributors will be constantly looking for a better way to do their work. When a better way is found, supervisors will update the Work Standards and Job Instructions, then ensure all the operators are sufficiently trained on the new method.

  • Supervisors will have a cross-training plan and ensure it is executed each year.

  • All leaders will ask a lot of questions and will not do a lot of directing around problem-solving.

  • Training is a highly-valued core competency in the organization.

  • Leaders at all levels of the organization will build coaching into their daily work routine.

  • All leaders will execute leader standard work without pencil-whipping it.

  • Standardized Work is used to free up the operator’s mind so they don’t have to think about how to do their work and can therefore think about how to improve their work.

  • Operators and team leaders will respond to all the out-of-control conditions on SPC charts.

  • Engineers will use the FMEA in their Control Plan to actually improve quality.

  • 5S improves year over year.

  • When someone leaves the company, their knowledge doesn’t leave with them.

The only way to become a Learning Organization is if every leader values Learning. If you don’t value learning, what you just read probably looks like a lot of tedious busy-work that would get in the way of doing your “real work.”

If you don’t value learning, what you just read probably looks like a lot of tedious busy-work that would get in the way of doing your “real work.”

Next is Respect for People. Respect for People is management taking responsibility for the process that the individual contributors work in and empowering them to fix the problems by providing coaching, resources and removal of barriers. The contrast to this is blaming people for getting mediocre results from broken processes. The concept is summarized by the phrase, “Hard on the process, easy on the people.” That phrase is oft misunderstood as meaning we must be indulgent of non-performers. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there are greater expectations for leaders in a Lean culture than in traditional management Value systems. To demonstrate, below is a partial list of things that will consistently occur only in an organization where Respect for People is a Value.

  • All team leaders check every hour with the expectation that the hourly production quantity was met safely, with perfect quality or the problems that prevented accomplishment of those targets were accurately recorded and the operator is prepared to participate in the problem-solving effort to eliminate them permanently.

  • Employees are involved in improvement activities that directly affect them and it is acknowledged that, since they spend 8-12 hours per day running that machine/ station/ operation, they are the expert on what is going on there.

  • Management owes workers machines that work, tools that work, materials that are free of defects, instructions that work, effective training, accurate drawings and specifications, effective coaching, resources to solve problems and the removal of barriers that are preventing workers from solving their problems. Only then does management have the right to expect standards for production quantity, quality and other expectations to be met.

  • Everyone has challenging work to do.

  • All leaders demonstrate emotional intelligence.

  • When a leader gives someone a task to do, s/he follows up on it and hold that person accountable for its completion. Otherwise, the leader obviously disrespected the person by giving them a task so trivial that s/he didn’t even care if it got done!

  • All people in the organization (not just the “Hi-Pos”) are developed along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see Figure 1, below) until they achieve self-actualization.

  • No one is asked to be something they are not.

  • The input, opinions, and contributions from everyone, regardless of their position, race, educational background, sex, sexual preferences, or disability are valued as long as they are respectful and observe agreed-upon ground rules for team interaction and personal conduct.

  • Processes are designed so that it is easier to do the right thing than it is to do the wrong thing.

  • Improvements do not result in layoffs.

  • A workplace is provided that is clean, ergonomically sound, and free from safety risks.

  • Each person’s ability to think and solve problems is fully utilized and no one is treated as “a pair of hands.”

  • “Why” is readily explained and no one is commanded “Just do what you’re told.”

  • There is open favoritism. Those who perform well, solve problems, model desired behaviors, acquire the desired skills, adopt the desired values and principles, and actively support the direction of True North receive recognition, promotions, and raises.

Figure 1: Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Every leader must embrace the Value of Respect for People. It is common to think that some of the "soft skills" that flow from this Value are not as important as the "hard skills" related to one's job. Most organizations reinforce this notion by rewarding people accordingly. Creating a culture based on Respect for People might require some adjustments to how leaders are rewarded and promoted in order to get their attention.


Creating a culture based on Respect for People might require some adjustments to how leaders are rewarded and promoted in order to get their attention.


In assessing your organization, how you build your assessment continuum is important. What you choose as the opposite of these two is critical. Let’s start with Respect for People. The opposite of this is not Disrespect for People. No organization is actively trying to disrespect their employees (I hope!). In my experience, the problem organizations have is that they are Distracted from People. By this I mean that management is busy focusing in other urgent areas and doesn’t bring their attention around to their people until it becomes an urgent matter (a.k.a. a crisis) demanding their attention. So the difference is one of staying intentional, which is why it has to become a Value. One cannot make the necessary changes otherwise! So, assess where your organization is on this continuum:


Distracted From People 0 ----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10 Respect for People


We can use the same approach to assess where we are with the Value of Learning Organization. It’s not like there is an Organization that learns nothing or is a Non-Learning Organization. Rather, the problem is being a Forgetting Organization. Learning happens, but it leaves when people leave. As an example, I worked with a company that had a 40+ year old ERP system that had undergone many hard-coded changes and was no longer supported by the original supplier. There was a man in his 80’s who retired from the company who was brought in periodically to help out with functionality of the system that no one could figure out. He came in with a walker and the help of his grandson. Whatever he charged that company was probably a fraction of what he could have charged, because his brain was the only repository of the knowledge that they needed! So, assess where your organization is on this continuum:


Forgetting Organization 0---1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9---10Learning Organization


Where did you assess yourself on these continua? Are you likely to improve? Do you know how to improve? A Lean Journey will be short, indeed, if these Values cannot be ingrained into the culture of your organization, beginning with top leadership. To be sure, it will not take place overnight. Do you know how to proceed? If not, contact us at Pathfinder for a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation. We can help you build a management system and a coaching program that will put you on the path to developing these Values in your Culture.


Not attempting a Lean Journey? Would your organization not benefit greatly if you adopted these values anyway?