Knowing WHY is Critical

Becoming Lean demands change.

This may seem rather obvious and some may think, “surely the reason that you begin on the Lean journey is exactly because circumstances demand change.” This is true. However, those changes need to go much deeper than many realize and actually begin outside the working environment. Many of the changes required for Lean transformation are radical and involve changes in the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of those working within the organization. The largest proportion of this change should rest within the realms of the higher leadership teams, and without this understanding and acknowledgement of their personal change requirement, any benefit derived from Lean will be both shallow and short lived.

Successful Lean transformation is more about developing people than it is developing value streams, systems and processes.

Changing the way people think and therefore behave

There are 3 areas of influence that must be considered when attempting to positively change the way a person thinks and ultimately behaves,

  1. Rational – This is the part of a person that will react to facts and figures. It is the area utilized most often when attempting to sway an organizations Leader to change their thinking. How many times have you heard the phrase “return on investment” when trying to justify why a project should go ahead? It is important to note here that this is also the weakest avenue of influence with regards to Lean transformation, as it helps only with smaller or less critical decisions. 
  2. Environment – Altering the environment is often thought of as the strongest method of changing behavior, provided we can make that change permanent. In this way, we can ensure that it is only possible to behave in the new way as the old way has been eradicated, e.g. brick up a doorway and nobody can pass through. 
  3. Emotional – Appealing to someone’s emotional side is a much stronger method of influence and often regardless of the figures involved) if the emotional attachment is strong, the money or time involved in the change hardly matters. It is especially powerful in influencing larger decisions.

Did you buy your house or car on its price alone?

Would you run into a raging inferno to save your car?

What about your son or daughter? 

Of course, there is strength in numbers. So for overall best results, influencing all three is always the way to go.

How this relates to Lean transformation


When embarking on a Lean transformation it is usually something fiscal that sparks the initial foray. It will have a High level influence and may include such items as market condition, market share, share price, etc. This is often referred to as “the Burning Platform”. It is seen as the point at which an organization feels forced to make the decision to change and do things differently. It works well in this regard, however, as a long term driver of a Lean transformation, it is not sufficient to facilitate a significant change in behavior as it works only as a rational influencer. How excited can you get your combined Leadership teams and workforce about share price or profit margins? Enough for them to, willingly and proactively, participate in organizational and personal transformation whilst still managing their current workload? Or, would they go along begrudgingly? In which case, as soon as the pressure is off, all the benefits that may or may not have been generated through your journey will be lost.


Changing the environment is done via the application of the Lean tools. Lean is about making value streams, systems, processes and therefore problems visible. This results in a visible change in the operational environment. However, just having things visible changes nothing. You see much of the visual side of Lean (the tools) are not permanent i.e. they do not ensure that work is carried out in only one way and that the old way is dead and buried. What they do is make it difficult to go back, but not impossible. It is not merely the presence of the Lean tools that makes them work but the Leadership interaction with them. If the Leadership is not knowledgeable about how they work within the realm of the tools then they will fail, long term, guaranteed.

The Lean tools, however, are critical in developing the thinking of everybody within the organisation. When used well, they create a training ground or dojo for the mind resulting in more agile and creative thought processes.


To facilitate true and long term change, organizational Leaders must inspire their people. They need to find out how to appeal to them on an emotional level. This is achieved through the communication of a company vision or belief. Not a throw away statement full of complex words and pointless sentiment but a real driver for the long term.

The first step is for the organization to understand its ultimate WHY. That is, why does the organization exist at a higher level? Be aware that deciphering this may take some time as it is never as obvious as you may, at first, think. It is also never about money. Also do not mistake your WHY for your HOW or even your WHAT.

When you can connect to your people on an emotional level through your organizations WHY, then you will create a common pull. The people within the organization now not only willingly support the transformation but feel they are a critical part of it. They cannot help themselves but to help it along. They become inspired.

Those Leaders and organizations that get this right, communicating the WHY well and often (both through their words and their actions) are the Leaders and organisations that stand out by achieving great things.

Go to article list Channel: Business Management
Tags: Business Intelligence, Goal Setting , Growth Strategies, Leadership, Strategic Planning, Team building

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