Why are Lean People Seen as Lean People?

For close to 15 years now, I have been doing lean work.  My learning has mirrored that of most of the U.S.  I started out studying Shingo and implementing tools.  Then I learned about the people side.  As I worked with Toyota, as a supplier, I started to see it all come together as a system.  Now I see the thinking that is the basis of everything we as Lean people talk about.

That is the thing that bothers………lean people or lean thinkers.  Why are we just seen as lean people?  Why aren’t we seen as good business people?  People that can help a business sustain, grow, and become stronger.  That is what we do.  We just do it in a way that is seen as different from the standards that have been laid out generations before us.

Call it lean.  Call it whatever you want.  To me it is good business practice.  Unfortunately…….or fortunately for my career, a vast majority of people can’t see it the way we “lean people” can.

My goal isn’t to be known as a lean expert, but a business expert.  Someone strong in leading, transforming, and growing a business.  How about you?


Posted on February 23, 2011, in Flip The Thinking, Leadership, Other and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Honestly, I like to be thought of as a “Lean Coach” since coaching people in lean thinking is the main focus of my work. The term “Lean Counselor” might even be more appropriate since I love the lean philosophy and see it mainly as a way to help people. My M.A. is in Counseling and it involves engaging people, understanding them, and asking them questions to help them resolve their own issues. I will never be comfortable being considered a “Lean Expert.” There are so many people out there whose knowledge and experience are far deeper than mine and likely always will be. In my opinion, those are the authors and Shingo Prize winners. And, I’d bet even some of them aren’t comfortable being considered experts.

    Why are we often considered as lean people, lean thinkers, or lean guys? My guess is that it’s a reflection of typical silo thinking. And, since our main role is to guide people in learning and applying it, they naturally see us that way. Perhaps this means barriers still need to be broken down and those silos transformed into value streams. I agree with you, though, Matt, that we actually are involved with growing and transforming the business and that to be seen as “lean guys” is a narrow view. In a lean utopia, everyone employed by a business should be working toward the same ends: growth, transformation, etc. all to provide value to our customers. Lines between functions would be more blurry.

  2. Good point. I think the answer is two fold. At least two fold, but two things really stand out to me right now. First is that lean is still considered a niche way of management in lot of circles. The amount of companies that flat out reject lean or are just engaged in surface or fake lean greatly outnumbers the amount of companies that are fully engaged. Second reason is that there is just too much reward in focusing on short term metrics to get people to switch the management horizon.

    That being said, successful leaders and businesspeople are measured by the quality of their results, not on the labels they place on their tool kit.

    • Exactly. So how do we get people to use lean for the results and change without calling it lean so it turns them off? The best way I know of is as a lean person to enter the business and run the business with lean thinking but not call it lean thinking. Just be the way we work.

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