lean management Lean management is not merely a cost-cutting mechanism.

Because Lean is often brought into a business on the brink of collapse, however, Lean managers do sometimes find themselves called upon to make difficult decisions: Do we perform layoffs? Should we cut this project, or that?

Can we ask staff to accept pay cuts? Is it time to declare bankruptcy and then get busy trying to resurrect the company?

In these instances, Lean philosophy can guide managers and provide a useful framework for organizing one's thoughts regarding a stressful and difficult choice.

Lean Management and the Path to Improvement?

Too many business decisions are reactive, rather than proactive. Let's say a business is hemorrhaging money and sales are down, so it responds by instituting layoffs and cancelling benefits.

What happens next?

Do those decisions lead to kaizen (continuous improvement) or do they simply allow the company to exist on its limited cash reserves for a few more months or years?

Decisions made considering only the present are almost always poor. Kaizen isn't just useful for specific key performance indicators. It is an overarching mission statement that should govern a Lean manager's every decision. If the choice you are making does not include a clear path to continuous improvement, it is probably the wrong decision.

Accept the New Normal

Transitions in business can be enormously painful. This pain leads companies to attempt to halt social change, rather than finding a way to work within the business climate that exists.

Think of the newspaper industry and its reaction to the Internet: Many were initially reluctant even to operate websites. Did that stop the relentless march of new media? Clearly not.

In Lean management and manufacturing, everything starts with the customer—this is as true with auto manufacturing as with newspapers and any other industry. Do not put yourself into the position of fighting the customer and trying to convince him to unmake a decision already made.

Learn to exist within the framework your customers provide you. If your industry is changing, find a niche where you can operate comfortably and keep customers happy, or change with it.

Employee Engagement

Backroom deal-making is necessary, to some extent, in all businesses, but a policy of actively hiding information from employees is antithetical to Lean management. It is employee empowerment that generates the most effective Lean ideas.

If you are facing a difficult decision, unless you are certain the business would be irreparably damaged by sharing information with employees, consider looping your staff in and inviting suggestions.

You may find your team is not only willing to make sacrifices to help the company, but also able to identify the best areas for those sacrifices, and suggest commitments management can make so employees are confident of the company's ability to move forward.