People First – Lean for your Small Business

Many businesses still think that becoming a Lean business is just about continuous improvement of processes by using Lean tools. Of course this is part of answer but it is only half the solution. What many miss is the importance of respect for people. People includes every person that interacts directly and indirectly with your business, so not just your employees and your customers. It’s also suppliers and even your community. Basically its respect for humankind at large.

Respect for humankind at large seems like a big ask and it is.

But research is showing that continuous improvement without respect for people is futile. In other words you will not get the expected and anticipated gains from the Lean methodologies without having a “people first” conviction.

Lean for small businesses

First off,respect for people does not mean giving employees everything that they want – you won’t because it’s not possible and this approach would not be in the interest of the whole business.

Secondly, respect for people does not mean that you are not in business to make a profit from your customers –because every business needs to make a profit to survive.

Respect for people is more complex. This is because it involves values, your business beliefs towards humanity. And it involves increased attention towards social systems.

This involves looking at how people are perceived in your business and ensuring that people are treated as people. To achieve this, management and employees in your business need to examine their actions and reflect on how the actions are materialising. System errors in your business need to be recognised as what they are. That is system errors, not as human errors. Fix the system errors. Finally, everyone must benefit from the improvement. “Everyone” includes – your business, employee, customers, suppliers and your community.

  • Betterment – engage in betterment of people
  • Behaviour – dealing with people as people
  • Blame – people not blamed for system errors
  • Benefit – people benefit from the improvement of processes

Putting people first is challenging. Not every business is up for the challenge. It’s not a job that you do once because it needs to become the way you do things and always be up for improvement. It needs to be part of you organisational culture. The benefits of adopting this principle is that your business will become people centred. Your employees will want to engage in continuous improvement of the work. Your customers and your suppliers will feel the positivity. And because betterment of the wider humanity is included in your values you will have your finger on the pulse of movements and shifts in attitude.