Five Tips For Keeping the Commitment to Sustaining Lean Strong

Automotive, Industrial Manufacturing, Lean Guiding Principles, Supply Chain, Value Added Services
July 3, 2014

Most companies that implement Lean programs understand the value a Lean culture can bring. As a result, Lean initiatives typically launch with great fanfare and management support. As early successes rack up, enthusiasm runs high and engagement is strong.


Then, suddenly, the excitement wanes as stakeholders realize the long-term commitment required to keep that
good thing going. So, once the Lean knot is tied – and the honeymoon is over – how do you turn short-term euphoria into a sustainable commitment? How do you keep everyone excited and committed to building a culture of efficiency, empowerment and continuous improvement?

5 tips to sustaining Lean programs and keeping them going strong

  1. Never abandon your core supporters
    All too often, when drumming up support for a program, we find a core group of people ready and willing to jump aboard. Then we invest most of our time soliciting support from those with little or no interest in the program. Certainly, engaging the uninterested is vital (see tactics later).However, forgetting your core supporters is the fast track to a failed program. Your core supporters are colleagues who “get it.” They’re eager to be initiated into Lean ways. They want to be part of the culture. All they need is training and encouragement to continue the journey. As Lean facilitators, we figure these people are already hooked and assume they can flourish on their own. The opposite is usually true. When ignored, their enthusiasm dissipates and you lose the stakeholders you need most to support your Lean program for the long run.
  2. Follow through on incentive programs
    Incentives are a great way to generate excitement about any program. Lean is no exception. Offer a few rewards for participation and you’re bound to get an eager bunch of volunteers willing to try it out. However, be very careful to do what you say you’ll do. One of the biggest pitfalls of any incentive program is lack of follow-through from management.A successful program requires two things: timeliness and relevance. If you promise an incentive by end of month, deliver it at the end of the month. Not next month. Not next quarter. People respond to rewards when they receive them as promised. Second, make sure your reward makes sense for the audience. Tickets to the next wrestling match in town will have limited appeal. But a free lunch at the local pizza shop? That could be just the thing to pique interest.
  3. Be creative
    Too often we try to generalize our approach to winning people over. A common mistake: trying the same thing again and again, then wondering why it stops working. Want to keep people engaged? Vary your approach.Then, do what you say you’ll do. If you train people in Lean ways and turn around and do the opposite, you send a “Do as I say, not as I do” message. That’s a sure way to derail any program. Think of different ways to promote your programs.  Maybe an extra-long lunch or a “be the boss” day. The goal? To replace rewards with a Lean culture. Reaching this stage takes time and a well-managed initiative aimed at building a world-class Lean organization.
  4. Get personal
    Incentives aside, there’s nothing like one-on-one communication to nurture interest. Walk the floor. Take the pulse of what’s going on in the plant. Talk to employees. Find out what they’re doing. Ask questions like “What would make your job easier? Safer? More enjoyable?”Questions like these aid the Lean program. They also establish you as someone willing to get personal with the process.  For many employees, the individual attention is more rewarding than a free sandwich or pizza. And it pays longer-lasting dividends. Above all, be sincere.  People appreciate an honest approach. It’s also a way to draw out the uninterested and either find out why they’re not interested or turn them into “believers.”
  5. Support from the top to the bottom
    Getting buy-in from the top is commonly mentioned but bears repeating. If you can’t get 100 percent commitment and involvement from the highest levels of management, how can your program succeed?From the start and throughout the entire Lean lifecycle, it’s critical that your management team demonstrates continuous support of the program both visibly and financially. When you have executive buy-in and leaders support the program by walking the talk, it’s that much easier to keep the Lean fires burning.

These are just some of the tactics I’ve found to be effective in sustaining Lean programs once the initial excitement wears off. What other methods have you found to sustain Lean in your organization once the honeymoon is over? Or, if you haven’t started building a Lean culture, download our white paper on the importance of People Involvement in a LEAN culture.




Written by Michael Remy. Mr. Remy is Manager of Lean for Ryder Supply Chain Solutions. He is a Kaizen and Operations professional with 20+ years of experience in warehousing, Lean, continuous improvement and distribution management. Throughout his career, Mr. Remy has played an active role in providing alternative solutions to complex warehousing issues, Lean Management and Logistical support for customers across numerous industry segments.  


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