Lean is a battle of willpower to overcome resistance to change, and win the hearts and minds of those in your organization.

Perhaps the most often used phrase in association with lean is “work smarter, not harder.” The concept has been true virtually forever. Moving huge blocks of stone across the desert to build a pyramid, getting the most crops out of an acre of soil, and making more shoes from a day of labor, are all problems solved best by ingenuity and innovation.

Lean is no different. Why push when you can roll, or lift when you can lever? We should certainly be using our brains, finding ways to get more output from the available resources. The key to productivity, quality and profitability is indeed working smarter. In fact, one excellent way of eliminating waste is by eliminating un-smart hard work.

The most common approach used by organizations not using lean is just working people harder, faster or longer. I would argue that working faster is perhaps the most popular solution to barriers that exist today. Whether we owe a report at the 11th hour or are late for work, speeding up is an everyday solution. We clearly know the flaws in this approach, hence the need to “work smarter, not harder.” As often as that phrase is used, I feel it ends up delivering the wrong message.

Lean itself is hard work, and a truly lean organization works hard. In fact, Toyota’s roots are in a region that is rural, entrepreneurial and hard-working. That regional culture was recognized as a part of its success, and is embedded quite naturally into what we now call the Toyota Way. Lean is about working hard.

The work of improvement itself is hard work. Many of you have probably been part of some continuous improvement workshop or kaizen event that went well into the evening or night. It was done because that was what was required to meet the deadlines and the goals, and people’s energy drove them towards that. Anyone will testify that they’re outright exhausted at the end of these events.

Furthermore, lean requires the use of creativity before capital. We can’t buy ourselves out of waste, because that would only replace the waste. The only way to really eliminate waste in a lean way is through creativity. New ideas help us solve clearly identified problems. But creativity is hard work. As problem-solver extraordinaire Thomas Edison stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Anyone who has overcome a tough problem knows exactly how that feels, and it continues to be true no matter how many times we experience it, whether or not we have the brainpower of Thomas Edison.

Lean is also a battle of willpower to overcome the resistance to change. This, of course, is a battle to win the hearts and minds of those in our organization. People must ultimately make up their own minds to become committed to the journey. Regardless of the size of your organization, that is a lot of work. Stamina, persistence, creativity and constancy of purpose are required of lean leaders. Perhaps the hardest part is that no one ever says “thank you for getting me engaged.” It is more likely they just act is if they always were engaged.

Finally, a lean organization pursues perfection every day. There is no rest, as perfection is not attainable. Pursuit of perfection is driven by a need to not just satisfy but dazzle every single customer, past, present and future. The pursuit of perfection drives an organization to work hard every day. Everyone knows that this requires a great deal of work. Everyone who is committed to lean is willing to work towards this pursuit, especially including you. After all, lean begins with you.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is a founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center in Novi, MI, and the co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road. He shares his successful and varied experiences of lean transformation as a practitioner and leader through companies such as Chrysler and DTE Energy. He also has a wide range of practical experience in industrial operations, including production, maintenance, material control, product development and manufacturing engineering. Jamie is a graduate fellow of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research thesis was on implementing lean manufacturing through factory design. He also holds a B.S. in Engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and an M.S. in Engineering from the University of Michigan. To contact Jamie directly, go to the web site www.leanlearningcenter.com.