How Can We Communicate Using Lean?

Written by Jason Haines

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer,” Psalm 19:14

Years ago one of my former employee, after we had all struggled with a brand new crane for weeks, made a comment to me that if he had bought something that he had trouble with as much as that crane he would have returned it and gotten his money back. So why didn’t our company do the same? If something wasn’t correct in the past, we would make sure we talked to the person about it and find a way to make things right. Now, I don’t mean like in today’s world of social media, where we think before we speak and say the nastiest thing in order to degrade another person or their business. We used to come to an agreement on how we can do things differently and change it for the better.

As I go from company to company and talk with managers and employees alike, I hear a common theme that seems to always be the same - the lack of communication in the facility. The frontline employees think their leaders are idiots and the leaders think the frontline employees have no clue what they are doing and are easily replaceable. So, somewhere there is a major breakdown in communication.

However, I believe a lot of people make the mistake that communication only means verbal communication, and this is not the case. Communication can be anything that helps people understand what is going on in the workplace or with their job. Whether it is through verbal communication of showing someone or through the visual workplace and what needs to be done, we must always communicate to our frontline employees.

Many places have enough verbal communication where people talk to each other about needs to get the job done, but this communication has its breakdowns. Just like when we used to play the telephone game, there was always something forgotten as the verbal communication is passed on to the next person. So, what do we need to do in order to help with this breakdown in the communication?

In the sport of football there is a lot of verbal communication, during practices and games, but there is a lot of visual communication as well. Whether it be through video, white boards, paper plays, or pictures everyone is constantly communicating both visually and verbally. You can’t just show or tell people or people what to do, you must show and tell together. And the sport of football does this phenomenally well. So why don’t we communicate both visually and verbally in our own organizations?

As I said before most organizations have verbal communication, but it is not always good verbal communication, and this breaks down over time. We know how to force our thought verbally but don’t understand how to build relationships in order to make future leaders and dedicated employees. A lot of times this is due to lack of training for leaders of our organization on communication and leadership. Because a lot of times we promote the top performers these top people get easily frustrated with other employees when they are not performing up to their levels. This frustration leads to anger and things being said that should not be said. Which then leads to animosity and disgruntled employees who resent their leader, and both sides not talking or communicating with the other. But looking deeper into this, is this really the fault of the employee who was put into the leadership role? Or is there a deeper problem?

One of the big things we do with Lean is provide visual management that helps us to communicate both visually and verbally. This visual management is relatively simple communication that breaks down the jobs at the point of the job. Usually with few words, because people don’t stop to read a lot of words and are more visual and look at what they do to learn. Think about one of the simplest visual and verbal signs that we see everyday in our life, the STOP sign. Painted red with the letters STOP on it. Simple and easy to understand. This is what visual management is all about; simple and easy for people to understand.

This is what Lean practitioners are talking about when we talk about visual management. Something that makes things easier for people to understand and not designed to be a novel for people to read. The pictures give people the idea of how to do the job. The sentences are short and concise. The numbers are easy to understand and give a precise time that something should be completed in. Some of the work will show the pathway of the work or how to set up the workstation. But this standard work, or visual management gives you as a leader the time to train, build relationships, and find ways to make improvements to the process. Valuing your people and the work that they do.

When we start to value our people, we start to worry less about them leaving and more about how we can make them successful. This is a big key in Lean management to work on the processes and provide value to our employees so they can succeed. When we standardize processes, we create an environment where people can think less about what they are doing and more about how they can improve what they are doing. With the reduced chaos problems become easier to solve and people will be able to develop their skills in other areas. Whether that be to become a maintenance person or a future leader of the company we can help people to develop these skills.

So why don’t we create better visual management and make our lives and others lives easier in the workplace. There are so many benefits in having the processes documented and easy for people to learn and follow that will help us grow and build the people that we are leading. Instead of having the issues of time taken to and train our people let’s start to develop our visual management tools so we can train and lead our people.

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!