Developing Employees: Nuts and Bolts of the Lean House

Christi Beck-Levicki Blog

AsPrint depicted in fig. 1 of the Lean House, the all-encompassing philosophy of a lean system is People.  In fact, a Lean System cannot be accomplished without the engagement of all employees in the lean undertaking. At the center of the Toyota Production System, the overriding principle for Toyota’s employees is “respect for people”. With Lean, it is understood that the best process improvements come from the people who actually perform the work. Thus the engagement of all employees in the pursuit of continuous improvement is crucial to achieving successful results.

Much has been written about Toyota Motor Corporation’s Production System (TPS) with in-depth analysis of the various TPS tools and their application. However, there has been little captured about the way Toyota achieves such high operational learning of their employees. Most companies implementing Lean miss this crucial people element, as well as the importance of building a learning organization. In fact, some companies choose to ignore it all together as it can be the most difficult element of Lean. This difficulty is one of the main reasons why Toyota spends so much time on employee development because they understand how critical it is to a successful Lean implementation.

A3 Method: Teaching employees how to solve problems

One of the key elements in developing a learning organization is the use of a problem solving methodology, known as A3 by TPS. The simple and logical format of A3 makes it an excellent tool to both solve problems, and foster a new learning approach. Leaders at TPS use this tool to teach employees a specific thought process that once learned can be communicated using a common language. Most importantly, A3 empowers all employees to identify and solve issues. Problem resolution is what differentiates, and helps to sustain improvements, within TPS.

Building a learning organization at all levels, Leadership

All Leaders need to be taught how to listen.  As we all know, communication is the fundamental gateway for processing and making decisions. However, the element of listening is often overlooked and undervalued. Leaders at Lectronics are working with team members to emphasize the listening aspect of communication in order to build a mutual foundation of learning. Employees at all levels are encouraged to be involved in the process of building knowledge in order to better expand the organization.

In a Lean System, a Leaders’ main responsibility is to mentor their employees. Rather than fixing problems directly, Leaders train their direct reports to identify and find solutions to problems. If all personnel are involved in problem resolution, the solutions generated will be more permanent than solutions being dictated down by management.

Building a learning organization at all levels, Team Members

Although there are a variety of different role types for employees within manufacturing, in a Lean System, all employees are united in learning how to properly identify and solve problems. If operators are taught the A3 problem solving process, not only will they naturally take ownership over any process improvement, but will also come up with the ideal resolution as they best understand how to perform their daily work. With this ownership, any improvements will be lasting as the employee has a vested interest in sustaining the improved situation.

Additionally, it’s paramount to include all employees in problem solving in order to better unite the workforce and create a collaborative team environment. With Leaders guiding and supporting a culture of problem solving, employees are better able to suggest and implement forward-thinking solutions. This type of emphasis on employee development, and team problem solving will allow any company to not only reach its goals, but typically surpass them.

Supporting a learning organization at all levels, Human Resources

The employees at Lectronics are the true heartbeat of the company. The role of human resources (HR) is to help maintain internal stability, which requires a focus on employee issues such as morale, employee relations, and staffing needs. As the voice for the employees, HR is able to identify common themes of what works, what doesn’t work, what are the employee’s needs, and most importantly, how to help foster solutions. Looking at employees as the company’s most valuable asset, HR plays a critical role in encouraging and maintaining a true lean and continuous learning organization.

Encouraging a problem solving environment

In order to effectively harness employee talents, Lectronics’ management has empowered the entire staff, both on the production floor and within administration, to evaluate current processes and make suggestions to improve them. By mentoring and supporting employees, while guiding team members towards solutions, Leadership focuses on removing obstacles and keeping the work focused.

Application of this core principle has been highly successful at Lectronics, and has surfaced improvements that would not have otherwise been noticed, or even possible. Empowering employees to improve their own work areas re-energized company-wide commitment to Lectronics’ goals. As Leadership continues to train and engage all employees in problem solving, we will greatly multiply the capacity to achieve any possible goal.

Lectronics’ Lean House

The Lectronics Lean House rests on a solid foundation of stability, with sturdy walls of standardized Quality and Flow. Holding the entire structure upright are the solutions-oriented employees who are empowered by making improvements to processes and work instructions. This expertly designed Lean House is strong, resilient, and adaptable – able to meet changing customer requirements while still emphasizing an internal culture of lean learning.