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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Reconnecting Through Lean

Published: Saturday, July 12, 2008 - 07:51

A recent conversation with the general manager of a manufacturer that was in the process of implementing lean methodologies provided insights as to their ongoing results. He was excited about what was happening in his company. Initiatives in the past had not been successful, and he now understood why, as well as why the employees and management blamed each other for the failures.

The difference was not in the content of the program, he stressed, but the implementation of it and the associated transformation of his company’s culture. Although the content of the training was rich, and the speeches from the CEO inspirational, the employees were excited only when they were able to work together on meaningful projects. While projects required as part of the initiative helped them get started on this path, the CEO’s display of commitment, support for ongoing improvement projects, and recognition of performance made all the motivational difference. It improved communication among management, employees, and customers. It reconnected the organization!

Based on the initial momentum, successes, and sense of ownership from the employees, the general manager began other efforts focused on communication that supplemented the initiative:

  • Bringing the employees together for ongoing short training sessions. These were conducted by the organization’s management or other employees and the “train-the-trainer” concept was encouraged.
  • Holding brief sessions to share successes/failures.  Avoidance of risk taking was not discouraged any more
  • Leading brief sessions to review the organization’s purpose, its vision, its challenges, strengths, and concerns. These were conducted on an ongoing basis vs. a one-shot deal as things change and people want and have the right to know. It was also an opportunity to nip the proverbial grapevine in the bud!
  • Facilitating ‘vent’ sessions to allow employees to share concerns regarding issues that were preventing them from delivering a good product on time. Out of these meetings came great ideas for improvement and became a feeder for lean projects

Generally, there seems to be a disconnect of some sort in organizations. There’s a consensus that communication between management, employees, and customers is a good thing, and most are willing to do it. The challenge always appears to be “how” to communicate effectively. A message needs to be clear in a number of ways: What is to be communicated? Who is the target audience? How do they best receive the message (e.g., medium, frequency, level of detail)?

As a corollary, while organizations often know what they want to achieve, the “how” eludes them. Are they, for example, trying to re-energize and re-focus? Business initiatives in the past (e.g., quality circles, TQM, reengineering), all sought to gain the same type of improvements, but after a few well-publicized success stories, organizations soon started searching for the next panacea.

Purposeful employee involvement seems to provide the answer. And lean and Six Sigma programs motivate organizations at all levels, from the expert to the worker bee. These initiatives provide a purpose, the tools, and the structure to ensure repeatability and leverage successes throughout an organization.  If implemented correctly, they should support the company’s strategy and help address the following questions: What do we stand for? What gave birth to this organization? What is our purpose? What is our vision? What are our challenges? What do we do well?

This creates the sharing, clarifies the vision, confirms the commitment, re-establishes the direction, generates new ideas, re-ignites the organization’s values, and instills pride. Improvement projects become the norm and a way of doing business—a part of the everyday culture.

By working in these common forums and leveraging these tools we can begin to come together. Administration, engineering, production, marketing, and quality can all start uniting as a team, understanding each other, and working toward a common purpose. We all want to do good work and make the organization successful. So why live with the feeling that they don’t get it? Let’s reconnect!

About the author Akhilesh Gulati has more than 18 years of experience in operations and process improvement, innovation, design, and quality management. Gulati is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, past section chair of the American Society for Quality, a former senior examiner for the California State Quality Awards, and a principal of PIVOT Management Consultants. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles.


About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in Southern California. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, an MBA from UCLA, and is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.