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Benefits, Lean or Otherwise, Depend on Perspective

When managers explain Lean to their employees, they always list the benefits. Lean improves productivity. It makes quality better. It gets products out the door faster.

All true.

But despite those benefits, Lean sometimes makes employees dissatisfied. Why? Let’s look at it from the perspective of my daughter when she very young.

I’m a gadget guy. I can’t put down those SkyMall magazines when I fly, and can’t walk past those ‘As Seen on TV’ stores without going in. Fortunately, most of the time I am able to resist my urge to buy, but a long time ago, I purchased a little sandwich grill. It’s like a clamshell that grills both sides of the sandwich at once. This is one of the rare gadgets I’ve bought that actually works well.

Anyway, when my daughter was little, she wanted a sandwich. But she asked me to make it for her in the ‘sandwich squisher’. See, she saw the benefits of a flat sandwich, whereas I valued the warm, toasty goodness. Incidentally, the name stuck, so now, many years later, my wife and I still refer to the appliance as the ‘sandwich squisher’ even when my daughter is not around. 

Lean presents the same disconnect within your company. A manager sees one set of benefits. Lean employees see entirely different ones.

Employees and managers and executives and engineers and customers don’t always see the same benefits of Lean.

Leaders, when you are implementing Lean, consider doing an anonymous survey. Ask your team to rate the value of the things you are pitching as the benefits of Lean. See if you are aligned with them, or if you are barking up the wrong tree.

Obviously, if they want the same things you do, life is easy. It they don’t, you will have to come up with a way to help them find their own set of benefits. Lean doesn’t have to work against job satisfaction. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of creativity to match the needs of employees with the benefits of Lean.

(I’m extremely partial to the Lean Book Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean? to help with this, but then again, I know the author well…)



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