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If you want to get Lean, get active

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2nd Dec 2015
Chief Knowledge Officer ActiveOps
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'More or Less', the BBC Radio 4 programme on statistics in public use, regularly uncovers and tries to lay to rest Zombie Statistics. These are figures that are often taken as fact despite often having very little firm evidence. A good clue for spotting Zombies is the difficulty in finding the original research behind the regularly re-quoted 'wisdom'.

Perhaps one reason these Zombies are so hard to kill off – even after they have been shot down by cold hard facts - is because the statistic is something that either rings true or is something we just want to believe.

Below is an interesting pair of possible Zombies. Exact percentages vary depending on which website rant you choose but the theme is the same.

  • 95% of diet programmes fail
  • 98% of organisational Lean programmes fail

These suggest that losing weight – either body fat or organisational 'fat' - may not be as easy as the two respective weight-loss industries would have us believe. Just type 'percentage fail' and 'diet' or 'Lean' into your favourite search engine and you will see what I mean.

The figures may well be Zombie Statistics and there are a lot of people who argue against these levels of failure, but they probably survive in our collective consciousness because deep down we know that losing that bit of surplus really isn’t so easy or formulaic. Discipline, hard work and a change of lifestyle are the keys to getting the excess weight off – and keeping it off.

In short: If you want to get Lean, get active.

A few years ago, standing desks started to become the fashion and it has been claimed that in our passive lifestyles many of us were sitting for more than 12 hours a day – while just standing for an extra three or four hours a day would be the equivalent of running 10 marathons a year [1].

So what is the organisational equivalent of being more active? Here are just a few ways of moving from being a passive manager to an active manager.

  • Sharing resources. The passive manager sits in their silo and draws enough resource around them to cover all eventualities. They are masters of terms like 'shrinkage' and 'volume variation' and can always justify a little more headcount in the name of customer service (and a quiet life for themselves). The active manager builds relationships with other parts of the operation and knows that they will be able to trade resources. They don’t carry so much fat because they know that by loaning or borrowing resource, not every team needs to carry the excess.
  • Just in time rather than just in case. So where the passive manager hangs on to as much fat as possible 'just in case' something goes wrong, the active manager gets just sufficient resource to do the work 'just in time' to meet the customer service targets. By planning over short horizons and assiduously monitoring in-period variations, the active manager never uses more resource than required.
  • Taking responsibility. The passive manager will welcome the plan handed down from central planning, happy in the knowledge that they now have someone to blame if things go wrong. They sit in their comfy chair and rehearse their defence: 'but the planning assumptions were wrong, what could I be expected to do?' The active manager is guided by the central plan but fine tunes this on a daily or even hourly basis knowing it is up to them to help their team be the best they can be.

When the new miracle 5:2 diet came out in 2013, a correspondent at the Independent asked rhetorically why we buy in to it [2]. They pointed out that the UK diet industry is worth over £2bn and, despite high profile success stories and celebrity endorsements, it doesn’t seem to be achieving its goals. Surely the same can’t be true of the Lean industry – can it?

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