Originally published on Mark Graban’s Lean Blog in 2006.

Before Lean, many of the activities that are presently structured as Lean projects used to take place anyway. They flew under corporate radar because the communication pathway was not established to let management know about these grassroots level improvements. Management would find out about them from powerpoint presentations in much the same way they presently find out about scientific work.

Lean has created a transparent reporting mechanism through the use of standardized charters and outbriefs. This reporting mechanism raises the activities into the radar. All of a sudden, management knows what is going on and asks questions. The positive side is that if you can execute, measure, and show improvement, you will be celebrated, given more freedom, and more responsibility. The negative is that if you don’t, the transparent system will not let you hide.

You will be given more chances, but sustained underperformance will not be tolerated and eventually management will take action. (Everyone fails once in a while. If you never fail, you aren’t taking enough risks.) So, the transparent system is great for very communicative high performers. Of course, this is the type of person that companies like Toyota, Motorola, and GE seek. These companies use the systems of Lean and Six Sigma to encourage certain behaviors that lead to high performance among their employees. They reward employees based on these high performance and communicative behaviors.

Companies that have struggled to execute successful Lean and Six Sigma compaigns have not grasped that the secret is not the tools. The secret is the reward and reinforcement structure behind the behaviors. Lean and Six Sigma processes set the stage for proper behaviors, but they do not cause proper behavior. Proper behavior is caused by the positive reinforcement of proper behavior. That is from Psychology 101. The tip here is to know that Lean and Six Sigma are transparent systems that allow management to see and reward high performers.

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