What If….?

test assumptions

Some three decades ago when Lean came to the fore, various assumptions were made about business and leadership. What if those assumptions were wrong? For example, what if business is not all about money-making? What if the true nature of executive leadership was misunderstood? If the assumptions were wrong, then there is a large gap between CEOs’ and Lean practitioner’s and Lean promoters’ understanding of business and leadership. Is it possible for Lean management to gain wider acceptance under such circumstances? Let’s briefly explore the gap and think about how it can be closed.

From our perspective as Lean practitioners and promoters, Lean management looks like an easy decision — a sure thing, with wonderful benefits for all stakeholders and few shortcomings. But from the perspective of most CEOs, Lean management can be very unappealing. What if Lean management causes them significant difficulties across multiple categories: economic, social, political, historical, philosophical, business, legal, and spiritual?

What if Lean management…

…confounds CEOs understanding of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services?
…brings dishonor to CEOs among their peers for abandoning classical management and being different?
…generates internal political (governance) discord for the CEO?
…undercuts CEOs duty to preserve and uphold certain important, long-established moral principles and values?
…threatens CEOs understanding of leadership?
…upsets CEOs understanding of labor?
…requires that the ends of business can no longer be justified by the means?
…means CEOs can no longer blame people for mistakes and problems?
…alters legal liabilities or implied terms of contract, or the abandonment of contract terms implied by custom?
…is a bigger personal disgrace and loss of valor and honor than losing money or declaring bankruptcy?

What if most CEOs are unwilling to challenge the 150 or so interrelated preconceptions that exist across the eight categories (economic, social, political, historical, philosophical, business legal, and spiritual) that define their fundamental way of thinking? If so, then CEOs have made a bona fide case against Lean management.

This good faith case against Lean explains our shared empirical observation that most CEOs are unwilling to even learn about Lean management via training classes or participation in kaizen. Read these books to grasp the full scope of their case against Lean management. We respect leaders when we strive to better understand their viewpoint and interests — in other words, when we confront the truth.

Six Books 2

Given the strength of CEOs’ good faith case against Lean management, the problem of how to get more CEOs to embrace Lean management cannot be solved by the various methods that have been used in the past.

There is a critically important choice to now make: Is just one or two percent of CEOs adoption of Lean management good enough? It might be. If that is the case, then Lean has plateaued and reached its own forms of steady-state, or equilibrium, and status quo in mindset and methods, just as classical management did long ago. Many Lean leaders and promoters seem to be comfortable with that. If, for whatever reasons that is not good enough, then a fundamental re-think is required. But is anyone willing to do that?

The reality, as expressed by Lean turnaround veteran Art Byrne says: “about 95 percent of all lean conversions fail,” and as I say, “about 95 percent of all CEOs don’t care about Lean,” means you can be certain that the assumptions made long ago about business and leadership, and which continue to be made today, are wrong.

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