A key reason for doing Lean, or any other process improvement initiative, is that a firm taps into its latent knowledge base. Process personnel usually have vast funds of knowledge about how work can be made to go better – knowledge that is largely untapped in the vast majority of firms.
When firms fail to tap into their latent knowledge base, productivity and innovation suffer. Changes for the better that could and should be made are passed by and ignored.
While I am not a fan of orchestrated process improvement events such as kaizen blitzes and the like, these initiatives, if nothing else, allow a firm to begin tapping into the knowledge base of functionaries. The problem with these types of events is that they are akin to a sugar burst – once the event is over, the contribution to improvement ends until another event is orchestrated.
The challenge with continuous improvement is to enable a steady stream of contribution to a firm’s stock or base of knowledge about how the firm can increase the value it offers. If we consider that “contribution” consists of thinking and action, then it is part of a firm’s cultural fabric – the shared set of belief and behaviours held in the organization.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that you can change organizational culture through programs and initiatives. If that were so, there would be many more Toyota’s today. Rather, the change must come about through respect for people. Finding simple ways to uncover and leverage their knowledge and experience about the work they do can be a useful starting point.