How to Implement Lean Operating Principles

BY C. Lee Smith
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The pandemic drove many of us to hunker down and work harder than ever before. If your team members are not always working smarter, you may need to learn how to implement lean operating principles to improve your organization. Audie Penn, a managing partner for Faro Partners and a certified lean practitioner, can help.

Management Mindset

During a recent Manage Smarter podcast, Penn told us how to achieve lean operating status. The first step is to acknowledge that managers may be more of a roadblock than a pathway to change. That’s because your team members may believe you don’t want to hear about their proposed changes to a system you developed and put into place. Or they may worry that suggesting changes to improve efficiency could cause the end of a job for themselves or a co-worker. 

As the economy becomes increasingly global, we must let go of our most liked and entrenched processes to better compete. Managers have to change their mindset by letting employees know that they expect them to bring their best efforts to the job. And that change which comes from the bottom up will be incorporated into the routine. Beyond that, consider rewarding the employee who originates change. This improves the organization in two ways:

  1. Employees see that they won’t be penalized for making suggestions.
  2. Lean principles won’t be handed from the top down by a clueless manager. 

Implement Change

That said, managers still need to jumpstart the process. Once you notice a consistent problem, such as deadlines being missed or sales leads being dropped before anyone follows up with them, encourage employees to speak up. In one organization, Penn addressed employees by name and held more than one meeting to show them they were worth his time. This display of empathy showed employees that he cared about what they thought.

If sales leads from events aren’t being followed up on in your organization, you can apply lean principles by reviewing the process. In a series of meetings, your team members can trace what is happening to leads. This analysis may reveal that nobody has been assigned to communicate with webinar prospects who signed up for but didn’t attend the event. Your team can recommend that one person be assigned responsibility for sending an email or two to these leads. And then, every one of those leads can also be assigned to a rep. Your team should also agree on how many touch points are needed before a lead is abandoned. If your team closes one or two more deals as a result of this new lean and standardized process, you’ll have an increase in productivity.

How to Implement Lean Operating Principles 

But you can’t stop there. You may need to train your sales managers to use lean principles when working with their teams. Let them know that once they’ve established a new work standard, they must train everyone who is impacted by the change. Because some team members will find it hard to work within the new system, managers should audit what’s happening and hold them accountable when they backslide.

Penn told us that, even after all of this investment, only 20% to 30% of lean deployments succeed. Often, it’s because not everyone in the cycle bought into the new process. Sometimes, training doesn’t happen. Managers must accept responsibility for some of this failure. If they don’t check in regularly regarding the new process, some people might backslide. When your team members accept accountability for the new process, you should achieve the desired results.