Blog Archives


I know that in today’s world there seems to be a lot more innovation happening.  If you are innovating you are dying.  At least that is what you are led to believe.  Companies now are requiring employees to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) just to work on a new project within the company.

How are we going to produce this new product?  Sign an NDA.

What new products are we working on? Sign an NDA.

How will we work as a new organization and what will it look like?  Sign an NDA.

NDAs are being signed for any significant work and it seems to be getting worse with the work environment today.

I find this to violate one major tenet of lean.  Respect for People.

The NDAs don’t allow for people to discuss the project internally with other members for the company.  This screams “We don’t trust you enough to let you know about this without reacting inappropriately.”

This counter productive to being transparent, which is discussed at great lengths with showing respect for people.

Imagine the scenario of developing a new product or program but it can’t be discussed openly until it is about ready to roll out.  Does the company truly not trust their employees enough that it won’t be blabbed all over the internet?

Rumors always swirl.  Rumors tend to lean towards the negative.  Why not get out in front of it?  Why not control it?  Explain the new product/program.  How the company expects it to help and why it came about.  This gets a good message out and reduces the rumors.  It shows the trust and respect for the employees.  It makes for a better work environment.

I understand there is a time and place for NDAs.  Just evaluate how often you are using them and really question yourself to understand if it is truly necessary.


Humility and Transparency

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

A reference made during the conference was from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.”  The book is a great insight into leadership characteristics that help companies move past the good enough stage to the great status.  The leadership characteristic that was referenced during the conference was leading with humility.  Great leaders are humble.

This characteristic is one the lean community talks about quite a bit.  The humbleness to continue to learn and not know everything.  The humbleness to give credit where credit is due.  These are aspects of the respect for people pillar of lean.

Where does transparency come in to play?  How does it tie to humility?

Too many times I have heard companies say they don’t pass information, especially bad news, down the organization because they are trying to protect their people.  Not passing down the information is being opaque, not transparent.

Isn’t this the opposite of humility?  Who are we to think we know best on how to protect employees?  Deciding what is best for others, doesn’t see like a humble thing to do to me.

Humble leaders are transparent with what is going on in the company, whether it is bad news or good news.  A humble leader doesn’t try to protect employees by hiding information but tries to protect them by being open and honest.

I don’t believe humility and transparency independent of each other.  A leader can be transparent and have no humility, but a leader can not show humility without being transparent.  Transparency can be an indicator of a humble leader.  And humility is a quality we look for in leaders from a lean perspective.

Tasty Catering Delivers On Employee Engagement

About a year ago I posted a blog about transparency being crucial to employee engagement (post here).  I have seen companies be transparent and get great gains from it.  Add another company to that list.  Last week I found a blog post (here) about Tasty Catering using transparency in order to keep their employees engaged in the company’s improvement and operation.

After hearing CEO Tom Walter share how he drives engagement with his employees through transparency and shared decision-making, it became apparent how Tasty Catering has received so many awards.

Starting off his talk, Walter said he isn’t concerned with modern technology or tweeting.  “I’m concerned about people and communicating with them. I want to connect with their values,” he said.

It sounds like Walter understands communication is a two-way street.  It is not about just putting something out where someone can read it on twitter or facebook or the company newsletter.  It is about connecting with the individuals and having a meaningful dialogue.

Walter also feels very strongly that all his managers understand Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (pictured to the left).

Walker feels that if his managers don’t understand it, they don’t really understand how employees think. He sees the”Love and Belonging” rung of the hierarchy as the communications piece.  ”We share the risk, and then we share the rewards,” Walter said.

In addition to having meaningful dialogues, Tasty Catering also publishes the financial results every month as part of the newsletter, called “Inside the Dish.”  They don’t make it looks slick.  They present the facts.

Newsletters are usually thought of as slick, four-color publications with articles and graphics. But that”s not what “Inside the Dish” is at all. Picture this:

  • Several sheets of paper stapled together at the corner
  • Absolutely no photos or graphics
  • 10pt Arial font in black with single-line spacing
  • Every section chock full of financials, including profits and losses (P&L) and other data such as sales and operations numbers

I would ask why no pictures or graphs to help illustrate the point.  With lean, we prefer visual management and part of that is trying to make the numbers easy to understand by representing them graphically somehow or show a process throw a process map.

Financial information can be difficult to understand and Walter knows that.

You may be wondering how all of Tasty Catering’s employees understand the financial data because they aren’t all accountants. Walter is so committed to making sure his employees understand where the company stands, he has the CFO conduct one-hour sessions each month with every team.

From a lean lens, I see these meetings as a large amount of waste.  Lean accounting would say to create plain English financial statements that are easy to understand.  This way the CFO doesn’t have to waste a day or more of his time just explaining the numbers.  This would allow him more time to be able to look for ways to improve the business instead of talk about the past performance.

How has this transparency paid off into employee engagement?  Here is one example:

During the recession, Tasty Catering was really struggling. To keep the company afloat, Walter was planning to institute a 10% pay reduction and let five hourly staff members go. When he proposed this solution, one employee suggested an alternate solution. She said to ask everyone to drop down to 25 hours a week. They could survive on that until the company recovered.

Walter also offered discounts on food from the company inventory during this time to help out as well as low interest loans to be paid back when they could.

Tasty Catering may not claim to be a lean company, but they seem to act like one.  The transparency shows respect for the people allowing them to want to be engaged in the company’s direction and decisions.  Sounds like a company doing the right things.

Transparency – Crucial to Engagment

If there is one question that pops up the most during a lean transformation, it is, “How to I get my employees to be more engaged?”  I finally decided to reflect on some of the comparisons of companies that have had great engagement (based on personal experience and reading) versus companies that do not have a great level of engagement (again based on experience and reading).  The one theme that seems to repeat itself over and over again is transparency.

Companies that have good employee engagement are like the old school overhead projector.  All the information is projected up through a transparency so everyone in the room can see it.  When everyone can see it, they can comment on it and add or change it.  The transparency allowed for easy changes by using a marker.  Once the change was made, everyone could see it immediately and agree upon it.  Nothing is hidden.  Everything is visual.  Not hidden in a computer.  Easy to change.

Things to look for to understand if an organization is being transparent are: future plans being shared with the entire workforce and not just the senior staff, financial information (not just cost/part) being shared with the entire staff, and open and honest dialogue about what the organization needs to do in order to improve.  There are several ways I have seen this work.  One of my favorites was the semi-annual employee update.  The plant manager had a meeting with every employee in attendance.  During this meeting he went over the financial performance of the plant, the areas the plant needed to improve upon in order to make the financial standing even stronger, and how lean would help them achieve the improved state.  I found this even more amazing because the plant did not have any employee profit sharing so showing the financial information was a risky move.  It paid off though.  Employees were so engaged they would come to the management team and suggest ideas to eliminate 2 positions in their own 3 position work cell.

Another facility created a visual area.  This area is accessible by every employee.  The area shows the metrics (where they stand and where they need to be).  It also shows the multi-year plan for the facility.  How machines and areas are planned to move, what improvement events are scheduled, and what investments are planned.  The employees know what change to expect and when to expect it.  It helps everyone deal with the change management aspect a little easier.  The employees see the changes coming and can get used to the idea before it is time to change as well as see how it is suppose to help the overall company.  The company does not need to put as much effort into change management because the employees have been better prepared.

I know being this transparent can be a major cultural shift.  Some people are afraid to give up the control they gain by keeping the information closely guarded.  The places that have been able to let go of this orthodox have experienced a great since of freedom as more and more people are able to contribute to the success of the organization.