by | Last updated Jul 29, 2020 | 0 comments


If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results. – Jack Dixon

The current business environment is often described using a trendy managerial acronym, VUCA, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. SMEs and large corporations alike are finding it difficult to consistently satisfy stakeholders and make profits. Customers are more educated, more demanding, and frequently changing. Markets are becoming more open and customised. Disruptive technologies are making organisations rethink their operations, some even rendering entire business models and traditional services obsolete! Think, for example, what Uber has done to traditional taxis, or how email impacted what is now referred to as snail mail.

A local daily recently published an article on the impact of Chinese imports on local Kenyan manufacturers. According to the article, the import growth is driven by local traders’ preference for cheaper goods as opposed to locally made goods. This implies that local goods are more expensive, and also means that the increase in imports could lead to the decline of Kenyan manufacturing. Local manufacturers have to respond in order to survive. According to change guru John Kotter, the rate of change is not going to decline any time soon. If anything, competition in most industries will increase.

Organisations are working hard to improve efficiency without compromising on quality. One well-known process-improvement methodology is Lean Thinking. Lean thinking, often referred to simply as Lean, is a methodology that means creating more value with fewer resources, eliminating waste. Lean is believed by many to have been conceptualised in Japan, but it is actually the brainchild of American authors. While Lean’s roots lie in manufacturing, this methodology has transitioned into service industry areas like healthcare, banking, and even marketing and media, with great success. In Kenya, many companies have implemented and are implementing Lean or other process improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma and Kaizen, also with great success. Through Lean, organisations can improve productivity, throughput, quality, efficiency, costs, and health and safety standards.

Lean begins with understanding what the customer values and what the current situation is, then identifying the gaps and transforming to the future situation. This process, as with any improvement process, results in change, because things begin to be done differently.

Those who criticise Lean say that it is focused on using tools and buzz-words rather than on actual results. It has been labelled a management fad. Those who have unsuccessfully tried to implement Lean have had no results because they have not involved the people. Lean is a philosophy, and a major part of that thinking has to do with people.

People are very supportive of change, as long as it does not impact them. Yet change is a major part of any organisation that needs to grow. How, then, can organisations ensure that employees understand the need for change, are happy and willing to continuously improve their processes, and are willing to implement the change themselves?

It begins and ends with change management. Change management basically involves successfully overseeing the people side of change. Prosci®, a change management research institution, has found that projects where change is managed effectively are more than 80% likely to succeed at their objectives than projects where change is either managed poorly or not managed at all.

For organisations to successfully implement improvement projects and realise business benefits, change management has to be integrated into Lean management. The team’s mind-set has to be changed at the individual level. Lean cannot be accomplished in closed-door managerial meetings. Rather, the people who are doing the work, at the place of work, must be involved in Lean.

A Lean utopia, in my view, is one where employees view their roles and processes in the eyes of the customer, and continuously seek to improve themselves, and consequently their processes, to positively impact their customers. This ownership, accountability, and people involvement is what drives successful improvement projects


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