Last October I stepped out of an elevator at the Drake Hotel in Chicago where I was hosting a Value Stream Management Conference and ran into John Cook from New Zealand. John is an extraordinary Lean leader, owning a very Lean company called Stainless Design. It is as Lean as they come and it is very, very successful.
I asked John how he thought the Conference was going and he commented that he was impressed with how nice the other Lean leaders were that he met at the event. I should note that ‘nice’ is a good word to describe John; he is a very giving, kind and generous man.
I’m sure you know how one thought can lead to another, which leads to another until your thinking gets far afield and completely out of control. That is what happened as a result of John’s comment and by the time the thinking exercise was over I had written my latest book. It’s called The Heart & Soul of Manufacturing. It’s a short book – just a little over 100 pages; and it’s cheap – just $8.95. It didn’t take long to write, but it has taken a career to learn and if I have been able to contribute anything to the Lean body of knowledge, this is it.
You see, I thought about the ‘niceness’ John observed and realized that it is a universal trait among the Lean leaders I have been privileged to meet, work with and observe over my 30 years or so in the Lean world. And I realized that the driver of their niceness is the same thing that drove their commitment to Lean, and it is the same thing that drives them to not only understand but wholly embrace the cultural core of Lean.
People like John from Stainless Design, Bob Chapman from Barry-Wehmiller, Steve Brenneman from ATC, Greg Wahl who runs Wahl Clipper, and the list goes on and on … all very kind men, all completely devoted to their communities, all driven by an intense desire to make the lives of the people in their companies better. And they are all men of faith – different faiths, to be sure, but they share a belief in a Creator and see service to humanity as their higher calling – much higher than amassing wealth.
And I recalled a quote from another guy – one who runs production at West Paw Design, who said, “My values are very in sync with the company values, which makes our decisions feel good and helps me sleep well at night knowing we are doing what is best for our people — both customers and employees — and the planet. I also love the team I get to work with.”
What all of these remarkable people have done is to adopt and adapt Lean principles and Lean management processes to mold a company that enables them to be very, very successful from a financial standpoint, and to do so in a manner that is in complete alignment with the their personal values. While much of the academic and business press is agonizing over what they see as a conflict between ‘social responsibility’ and profits, these folks are incredibly profitable and successful because of their intense personal commitment to social responsibility.
The Heart & Soul of Manufacturing is a book of good news. It explains just how this alignment takes place; and I have tried to show how people of faith – any faith – and people who are driven by their values to a life of service, can have business and career success, using these companies and more as examples. No one should ever have to feel conflicted between what they know in their hearts to be good and true, and what they think they have to do to succeed in business.