If you work in manufacturing you know all about LEAN or as it was once known Total Quality Management (TQM). In other industries, it may just be one of those management initiatives you heard about that came and went.
As a woman it is critical that you have a basic understanding of the principles of LEAN and systems-thinking.
We live in a society that believes that we as individuals can move mountains. I love Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline because he titled his first chapter “Give Me A Lever Long Enough…And Single-Handed I Can Move The World.” That sums up our culture. That is what I was taught, it is what most people who went to business school were taught and it is what your male peers are trying to prove they can do. It is a Blue Zone perception of how the world works!
It is also wrong. That is where systems-thinking and LEAN come in. LEAN emphasizes the importance of the systems and processes that we use to do work. It says “I don’t care how big your lever is, there is only so much you are going to achieve. The system you are working dictates what you can achieve.”
Men don’t like that. Their egos and Autonomy don’t like that. It goes against what they were taught and their perceptions of themselves. This is why TQM vanished from a lot of industries and many still struggle to implement LEAN principles.
Systems however are more natural for women to understand. Our comfort with working in Groups, Circular perspective, Multi-task Management skills and desire to get things Done Well are exactly the traits systems and LEAN principles require.
A system is nothing more than a bunch of activities that are linked together by their relationship. Women’s natural ability to understand relationships allows us to understand and improve the systems our workplace uses. For me one of the most empowering statements I ever read was:
“Workers work in a system and managers work on the system with their help.”
This statement defined my job as a manager. My job was not to yell at my employees in order to get them to perform better. My job was to understand how they were being told to accomplish their work and understand the limitations that that systems they were using limited their performance. By collaborating with them, we could improve the systems, processes or procedures they use. When we improve the processes, we make their work easier.
Working on systems and processes with my staff has been the foundation of my success. Please read my article “SAC Missile Comp”. It describes my first experience using systems-thinking. I got some amazing results which launched my career.
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