Adapting the Mindset that Makes Lean Successful: Part 1

leanmindsetJust-in-Time (JIT) is a lean model we’ve seen work remarkably well for Toyota. The West has embraced it along with many other lean strategies the Japanese company has originated. There are countless resources, documents, and trainings covering all things Kaizen, or Continuous Improvement, which is the headlining idea of all lean manufacturing. Why, then, are Americans seeing only a fraction of the success with these strategies as the Japanese?

Before you make any sort of guesses about the ideas that come forth or the technology available to us, know this: no idea born of lean at Toyota is implemented across all of their plants. Their employees pitch different observations, problems, and solutions across the company, and their sites reflect these differences.

So not only does the lean model work better for them, they are rocking numerous separate strategies that likely solve similar problems.

What are we doing wrong, then?

The answer likely lies within the Japanese work culture. The International Journal of Economic, Business and Finance released a research article titled, “Just-in-Time Manufacturing System: From Introduction to Implement.” Its contributors, Akbar Javadian Kootanaee, Dr. K. Nagendra Babu, and Hamidreza Fooladi Talari go into great detail about JIT and why the Japanese are so successful at it. If Americans want to make this Eastern strategy work for us, we have to figure out how to adopt some of the basic ways that the Toyota employees innately approach their work.

  1. The workers are very motivated to seek constant improvement, even when a high standard is already being met. It’s ingrained in them to never settle when they’ve met their goal. No wonder looking for ways to continuously improve is a great strategy for them – that’s how they naturally approach work. How can you teach Americans to think this way? If nothing else, good ole’ repetition can entrench a way of thinking. Be it with meetings, problem solving, or competition, if you consistently make them think about how to improve, they will start to consistently look for a way to answer that.
  1. Group effort is heavily emphasized by the company itself, identifying a common goal and then encouraging sharing or combining talents, knowledge, ideas, and problem-solving skills to achieve it. This can take some time to implement, but it really shows your employees that you value them, and it creates a culture in which they better work together. First, when an employee has a good idea, best practice, or great skill, share it. Teach the rest of the crew what works about the approach. If possible, have the employee teach it him or herself. Make this a habit. Second, evaluate whether your employees are in positions that best suit their strengths. They’ll be better able to mentor and improve on processes if they excel at them. At the end of the day, competitions between groups can also help people work better together.

In part two, we will focus on two more important differences between our cultures and how to help Americans work with a mindset that supports lean strategies.

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