Managing a business in the 21st Century is vastly different from managing a business previously, because the rate of change is so great, that there is no certainty. This was articulated by Sensei and French author, Dr. Michael Ballé, when we brought him out to do some gemba walks last September. As he said, there are, quite simply, too many variants. We actually have no idea what’s going to happen in the future and we can’t know. Consequently, according to Ballé, we need to shift away from planning for static efficiencies to working towards making dynamic gains. Lean thinking challenges the traditional management approach, and the results are proof that it’s the strategic leadership approach for the 21st century.
It is for this reason that I watch, with glee, every booking registration that comes in for the KZN Lean Congress, powered by Vodacom, because I know how perspective shifting it is likely to be. The event is being marketed nationally, so we’ve had delegates from as far afield as Cape Town registering to attend. Very exciting!
The congress speaker line-up is an enviable one, and with lean legend Art Byrne addressing delegates, there are likely to be many “aha” moments over the course of the two days.
Byrne’s roll-up-your-sleeves, “get-to-the-gemba” approach to implementing lean has become a benchmark for executive involvement in continuous-improvement initiatives. Byrne began his lean journey as general manager at the General Electric Company and although he has spearheaded lean conversions at more than 30 companies in 14 countries, his dramatic transformation of Wiremold Co. in the 1990s (documented in Jim Womack’s book, “Lean Thinking”) is what has brought him the most acclaim.
In South Africa, like in many Western societies, lean Implementation has tended to be tool and system focused, but it is important to understand that the philosophy plays a critical role. One practitioner describes the primary aim as “drawing out people’s capability and motivation”, which is very different to driving out cost.
While Lean as a strategy is applicable to all businesses, the congress presents a very real opportunity to stimulate discussion about forging a new path for manufacturing in South Africa.
I’ll tell you why. A little while back, I spent a very good day with Zwelinzima Vavi at one of the local factories that successfully employs lean. The thing that most impressed him, was the fact that not a single labourer had anything negative to say about their employer. It was a first for him, and why? Because the workers at this factory are empowered and respected, which are integral elements of effective lean implementation. I’ve invited Vavi to address the congress and he has agreed to do so.
Lean thinking is about reconciling companies and their customers, management and their employees, and performance and creativity. At the heart of this, is respect.
It’s important to note that respecting your workforce doesn’t mean getting all soft and sappy. John Shook, Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) chairman and CEO clarified things quite nicely, when he said: “respect for people is often mistaken for establishing a democratic workplace in which everyone is treated with great deference and politically correct politeness. Respect really means that we challenge each other to be the best we can be by fully developing our uniquely human capability to solve problems.”
Lean is unquestionably the strategic approach to adopt. I strongly recommend that leaders that are not employing it, at least take time to consider doing so. For more information on the conference, access the following link: http://www.pcb.org.za/event/kzn-lean-conference/