How Do You Sustain The Lean Process Initiative Long Term

A reader asked, 

  • How do I sustain the Lean process initiative in the long term?
Leadership listening and acting

Leadership listening and acting

This is sometimes referred to as “step-after-next thinking,” and it is one of the most important things you can do. “Once I make such and such change, how will I sustain it? How will I improve it?” This is especially interesting for sales and marketing.

First, lets assume you are able to create measurable improvements in sales and marketing. This is challenging enough in most companies, but doable. To learn simple things you can do to make improving easier, read “Why Are Improvements Difficult To Create In Sales And Marketing?“. 

Now, lets use the “5 Whys” approach. Why is it hard to sustain improvement in sales and marketing? 

Take a moment, and think about your answer.

Ok, here’s what comes to my mind as I think about these conversations with many clients over the years:

  • Never thought about how to sustain improvements… Why?

  • I (we) didn’t know we should think about it. We just never knew. 

OK, so now, lets think about the issue. What might it take to plan for sustaining improvements your people make in sales and marketing? 

Now, I know this is hard work. But I want you to think about this for a moment yourself. The fact that it takes work to focus on this is a signal this is important. It will be worth the effort. 

What does it take to sustain improvements people make in sales and marketing?

Ok, here are my thoughts. First, as indicated above, we need to be able to measure things so we can detect improvement. Measurement is critical, because you need a way for people to identify the same evidence in the same way. Measurements are the way people can share insight and awareness about things, a way to relate them to other things we each know.

So, if we have measures, is that all we need? Will the people involved then be happy to continue measuring and improving their performance? Like, forever?

Maybe not.

So, now we are getting somewhere. What does that mean, to continue improving performance? Does it mean to work harder, and harder, and keep putting in more effort and more time? 

Of course not, you say. They have to work smarter too. So, will the salespeople on your teams be willing to keep putting out more effort to work harder and smarter, forever? 

Or will they tell you they are working harder already, and smarter too, and have been for years? Will they say there is a limit, after all? 

Now we’ve reached the crux of the issue. What’s in it for the sales force (or whoever is involved) to put out the effort to improve, and to work harder, and work smarter?

Here we can have a conflict between “the Voice of the Business” and the “Voice of the Process.” If management constantly demands more performance, more productivity, what do the workers get in return?

They get to keep their jobs? Is that it?

Unfortunately, in many companies, that is it. And workers put up with it. 

But they don’t improve.

If you think about it, they can’t improve. Not really. There is a limit to what can be accomplished when improvement is imposed from the outside in. People can only work so much overtime. Improvement cannot be sustained from this context. You have to come from a different context. Improvements you want might be logical. They might be correct. But people are not machines. You can’t win only by engaging their minds. 

You have to engage their hearts as well as their minds. You have to use their own energy to propel improvement. The essential characteristic of a continuously improving business is that management leaders expect the functional departments to improve themselves. And they back up their expectations with active support. 

Sales department, where does it hurt the most? What do you think you can improve? What are the common, high-impact issues preventing you from increasing productivity by fifteen, fifty, or one hundred percent? What would need to change to make that possible? Why do you think that? Are there some tests or experiments you might run to test some parts of your theory?

Human beings want to work in environments where improvement is demanded from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. They want to work in an environment where their own ideas and ambitions are listened to and enabled. They want this badly.

Accomplishing this requires management to take a different posture than they do in most companies. The posture required is the one Toyota is famous for, where the workers are on top of the pyramid, and management serves them. Where management listens to their ideas for improvement, and enables them to implement these improvements. Where they are accountable for learning what works in the real world.

And that is how you sustain the Lean process initiative in the long term.

I would look forward to your thoughts on this. Do you know of companies actively doing this now in managing their sales and marketing? 







Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Nida Simons - May 28, 2014 Reply

Toyota achieves an unprecedented level of synergy between Sales and Improvement.

    Michael Webb - May 28, 2014 Reply

    I would expect there are interesting things going on in sales improvement at Toyota. I would look forward to hearing about that if you know someone who can tell us more.


April C - September 24, 2014 Reply

There’s an element required here that speaks to fear. Fear of unveiling problems and that it’s okay to raise the issues. It’s a cultural shift in most organizations… without that, continuous improvement will never take hold.

    Michael Webb - September 24, 2014 Reply

    Yes. And don’t underestimate how deep these roots go.

    Most salespeople grew up in an environment where any information they provided was used against them. It will take a lot of time for some of them to get out of that mold.


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