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Lean vs. Continuous Improvement

Updated: May 1, 2019

wooden letter tiles spelling out "Words Have Power"

Sometimes there is so much more to a word than its definition. Nowhere is this truer than when we start talking about Lean. The word Lean starts out as Lean Manufacturing, a brilliant idea about how a focus on reducing waste can lead to manufacturing excellence and long-term business success. Unfortunately, Lean Manufacturing is a bit of a mouthful, so it doesn’t take long until it’s shortened to Lean. That word means a lot of things to a lot of people. Efficient. Trim. No fat. Cut. CUTS?! Am I going to lose my job? Are they trying to get rid of me? Are they going to squeeze me for everything they can? I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this!

Lean can quickly become a four-letter word.

Speech bubble with symbols in it depicting a swear word

As leaders, we often have a different filter than our employees. We hear Lean and think of the positive benefits the philosophy will have on our organization. We think of the successes others have found with these methods. We think of the pressure to stay relevant and competitive in today’s business climate. We don’t always consider things from the lens of our team. That is the downfall of Lean. When we fail to see it as they see it as we communicate our vision, we fail our culture. If we don't help our people see what we see, we build resistance to change. In short, we kill Lean, dead.

Continuous Improvement has a much nicer ring to it. Not only that, it actually does a better job capturing what we’re trying to do by adopting Lean: get better. When we communicate our vision about bringing Continuous Improvement into our culture instead of Lean, it speaks of our desire to not only increase productivity & profit by reducing waste, but also our desire to improve our business as a place of employment. Building ductwork is hard work. Wouldn’t it be great if we could find ways to make that work easier? Less exhausting? Safer? Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to work 12-hour shifts or come in on the weekends? Wouldn’t it be great if we got so good at serving our customers that we all had more opportunities, better pay, and higher job security? Continuous Improvement affords those things. Replacing the word Lean with Continuous Improvement helps us communicate our desire, as leaders, to make each and every facet of our business better.

Let’s get Lean out of our vernacular and Continuously Improve our communication to our team.

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