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Guest Post: Nature or Nuture

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

I was thinking the other day about some of the people I know that work in and around Lean-type leadership positions and something struck me about them.  None of them were truly ‘transformed’ in to Lean thinkers.  All of them were people who had an inherent problem solving mentality or a passion to challenge the traditional way of doing things and found a tool box that furthered their natural tendencies.  The same held true, for my experience, of operations leaders.  Those that truly ‘got it’ and were the big drivers and implementers were people who were already looking for better ways and latched on to the different methodologies.

Taking that a step further, what does that mean for companies?  Are some companies, by their culture and DNA, more inclined to be successful converting to and maintaining a Lean environment?    Sure.  Some companies are more experimental or entrepreneurial and look for ways to become better.  Some are more likely to dig their heels 3 feet deep in the ground hanging on to their traditional methods for as long as they can.  The ones in the latter group that ‘try’ Lean are more likely to overlay the tools on their old ways and not get results they thought they might.  Lean becomes something that happens on an action sheet and not part of who they are.

Am I being a defeatist here, preaching “it is what it is” when it comes to company histories and Lean transformation?  Certainly not.  Companies are nothing without the people that do the work and lead the organizations.  Lean starts, builds and endures because of the people in the system.  It is the attitude and dedication of the leaders that determines that path of a company.  Whether any change is embraced or abandoned is determined by what people are doing right here and right now.  It is not determined by what happened 10, 50 or 100 years ago.  What this means is that when you look at your Current State when defining your Lean progress or setting up your road map you need to invest some solid time in understanding who and what your organization is made of.  Without the proper attention to those factors, you may find yourself backtracking a lot more than you ever thought possible trying to re-do what you thought was already done.

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