Archive for October, 2009

The Death of Work – How French TV presented Lean

October 29th, 2009 admin No comments

You may or may not know that stress at work is a hot topic in France at the moment. France Telecom, the national providers, have seen 25 suicides in just one year in a context of major reorganisation. There have been similar occurrences on a lesser scale in other companies (it turns that there are a fair number every year anyway) and, in the midst of the current economic situation, there is all of a sudden an army of journalists and psychologists with their own views on the root cause of the problems and the solutions to be put in place.

This week there has been a two-part series on French TV. It was presented as a two-year investigation (this was correct, there was filming done back in 2007) but opportunistically linked to the current spate of workplace dramas, and presented as “La Mise à Mort du Travail” – The Death of Work.

The first part was Monday evening and covered two companies. The first was a medium-sized supermarket chain and the report followed the struggles of five checkout girls who had each, according to the report, been unfairly dismissed. We never to got to hear the version of the supermarket manager in question, only deformed accounts via a very greasy lawyer, but you can imagine that the programme was not heavily biased towards the employer.

The second was an interesting one – Carglass, market leaders in windshield replacements. The French CEO is an ex-Directeur of Human Resources of the company. Rare! We started off with pictures of everyone hugging each other and screaming just how happy they were (I can assure you that the French character does not lend itself easily to this kind of training course, but they were doing it), and it switched to the CEO who stressed the importance of people in his organisation, and how the company couldn’t succeed without their implication… and that the company was doing very well, thank you.

We also saw Mr.CEO walking his Gemba, and also at an evening at the national Stade de France stadium which he’d rented for an all-hands meeting, at which he was to be seen both formally and informally discussing with groups and individuals. He also told us that the number one performance measure his managers were judged on was customer satisfaction – and he had a full-time office of telephone operators following up with customers to gauge this.

Gosh, 60m of us in France were thinking, wouldn’t it be great to work here.

About halfway through the programme, the tone changed. We saw the call centre manager showing us his new software which monitored the time spent by each individual on breaks. It flashed in red if the cumulative total exceeded 30 minutes in a day (including lunch). In the garages where they actually do the work, the manager we followed never actually got around to managing – he spent most of his twelve hour days handling the paperwork (no secretary) and warding off impatient customers (not enough technicians).

We then switched to Brussels, at a shareholder meeting. Pinstripe suits, brushed back hair, self-congratulatory presentation on how the car glass business was up 33% on last year. Just after we’d heard from Mr.CEO in response to an employee question that there was no possibility of pay increases this year, the context was too difficult.

And, cherry on the cake, we’re told (no real evidence presented) that in fact the importance placed on customer satisfaction was directed less at the final customer than at the insurance companies that actually paid for the work, and who obviously make the choice of the company for the repair work.

Unsurprisingly, the first part of the programme finished with our brave young manager leaving the company, burnt out at 30. Even the HR trainer who managed to get the French to hug had left, for a different lifestyle in the country.

It was all fairly despondent, a good piece of journalism if this was indeed the effect they looked to produce.

And so, in this climate, part two was last night. First person we see on the screen? Henry Kravis, king of the LBO, and the first thing we’re told is the size of his personal fortune whilst a few American skyscrapers appear on the screen. Henry K. company bought a conglomerate a couple of years ago that included Fenwick, the forklift manufactuer, who have a number of factories in Europe. The first part of the report dealt with how Fenwick use outside consultants to improve the performance of the sales force , and we had the standard psychologist/psychoanalyst explaining how this placed a great deal of pressure on the individuals.

We then got to see an excerpt of Henry K. giving a presentation, where he explains that basically his job is process and supply chain improvement to turn companies around. Even the journalist managed to spit it out with a strong French accent – Lean Manufacturing!

We actually saw some process improvement going on on the shopfloor. It looked pretty good stuff. The majority of the comments on Lean however came back through the trade union representatives. And you can imagine they weren’t actually that positive. We actually them visiting their TU colleagues in the Toyota factory in Valenciennes, in the north of France, hugging the book from Kamata : Toyota, the factory of desperation. We then get the same psychologist/psychoanalyst making exactly the conclusions as he had on the salesmen.

We then switched to a photo of Henry K dancing with someone who is probably his wife (a lot taller and and lot younger) and were told how much he earned in an hour, in a day, and in a year. And exactly what multiple that represented of a Fenwick operator’s annual salary. And this was the Henry K who had told us that his job (a major shortcut here) was to implement Lean Manufacturing.

Maybe Lean Business France can switch to making pancakes!?

For those with French-language inclinations, here’s a link to the TV company’s web site where, if you are gluttons for punishment, there are video excerpts from the programme.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

Energize your leadership (and other goodies)

October 25th, 2009 admin No comments

This is a copy/paste from a blog I started at the end of last year, and then ignored for a while as priorities changed. I never realised I was such a talented author!!

What does it take to successfully lead a Lean Supply Chain or other improvement programme or project? Detailed knowledge of MRP, maybe? Being able to reel off the definitions of the different incoterms? Express Six Sigma to six decimal places.

Well, maybe, but’s let’s start elsewhere. How about a little enthusiasm and energy. Or even lots of it. Leaders need enthusiasm and energy themselves. But they also need to be able to mobilize and sustain it within their organizations.

So how do they go about doing this? How do they raise employee expectations, change people’s behaviours and obtain the attention and commitment of teams and individuals at all levels of their organisation or project?

There is clearly a link here with clear, comprehensive and compelling communication. From setting ‘ccc’ objectives to being able to tell a ‘ccc’ story, and building an inspiring and ‘ccc’ view of a much better long-term future. And not forgetting a ‘ccc’ big thank you to celebrate ‘ccc’ successes.

Obviously, being capable of generating energy is not the be-all and end-all of successfully implementing the change programme. Setting and managing challenging objectives, addessing impacts on short-term performance, and engaging people at all levels of the organisation all contribute amongst other factors to increasing the chances of success.

But, in the end, it all comes down to the profile of the leader. Certainly, he will go through phases of anxiety, confusion, frustration, fatigue and resistance. However the positive emotions – pride and enthusiasm - normally outscore the difficult phases in the makeup of successful leaders.

Then this came two days later under the title ‘Maintaining Confidence in Times of Crisis’. Good, eh?

The current economic crisis has resulted in a climate of concern in many companies today. How do we maintain momentum and commitment during these difficult times?

The manager/leader has a key role in reassuring his workforce. How does he go about this? The minimum is to be seen, either through spending less time away and more ‘at home’, or less in the office and more on the ground with the employees (if you see what I mean). It is important to show solidarity, and be prepared to listen to the options and concerns of the workforce. However, there is a limit, and any major changes in behaviour may have the adverse effect, and increase concern amongst the staff.

Another important point is to be transparent. It is impossible to pretend that “all is well” when everyone knows very well that it is not. Communication, and especially information, need to be reinforced during these periods, both up and down the hierarchy. Words must be supported by actions and attitude, as we all know the importance of the non-verbal aspects of our language.

Finally, the leader has to underline the contribution of any improvement initiatives to improving the overall situation for his company or department. Times of lesser activity are often ripe for intensifying change, which can be a major motivator in difficult periods.

In-between, I’d done a bit on how to implement Lean Manufacturing. Simple, isn’t it?

Firstly, and most importantly, the company culture needs to be steered towards continuous improvement and the use of Lean tools and methods.

Secondly, management needs to provoke – and provoke is probably the right word – a drive to reduce the inventory and assets required to produce and deliver products. Make them do as much with less!

A thorough understanding of what is adding value compared with all the rest in next on the shopping list. Get rid of costs, whether they be manufacturing, logistics or selling, which are not contributing to the customer service objectives.

A commitment to a 100% on-time delivery objective through the synchronisation of manufacturing and logistics processes comes next. This involves both internal and external improvement drives.

Finally, increasing the flexibility of manufacturing and logistics operations is imperative.

Luckily, this current blog seems already to have lived a longer life than the previous one.

Categories: Respect for People Tags:

Auto-entrepreneurially Lean

October 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Now, maybe some of you will have developed the perception that France is a sort of bureaucratic country, with a fairly high percentage of people in work being employed by the government which isn”t a guarantee that there will not be long queues at adminstration buildings.

The French certainly have this perception (although personally I reckon that some of the administrations are quite good), and one area where there did seem to be a great deal of paper, queuing and time spent was when you wanted to set yourself up in business. For some it was at the least discouraging.

There was this great law that came in at the beginning of this year which created a type of company – the autoentrepreneur – which threw out a lot of the formalism and enabled potential businessmen to set themselves up in two clicks on the internet. OK, there are restrictions, especially governing the maximum turnover you can make, but it is a useful stepping stone to get a project off the ground.

And it is having a great success. In September alone there were 56000 companies set up, 60% of which were autoentrepreneurs, a total which is 80% up over the corresponding rolling three-month period compared with last year. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a increase of 68% in the total number of companies created compared with 2008.

OK, they don’t all turn out that well – some never make a sale, and failure rate has gone up 22%, but for every failure there are seven creations, so something is shifting in the economy.

And I doubt whether with this new entrepreneurial spirit, many of the new companies will be under pressure to implement SAP. In fact, they’ll be looking to do whatever they need to do as economically and as quickly as possible. Alone in this big, bad world, each autoentrepreneur will be forced to resolve his own problems, work closely and tirelessly with other autoentrepreneurs, train himself on the latest ways of doing things, and basically think : “customer, customer, customer,…”.

Naturally Lean, if you like. Autoentrepreneurially Lean.

Good luck to all of you autoentrepreneurs!!

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:

How does ‘Lean’ translate into French?

October 20th, 2009 admin 1 comment

My latest read is ‘The Puritan Gift’ from the Hoppers, plugged by Bill Waddell both here and here (some performance, getting four links into the opening sentence, but the only reason I’m reading it is through Bill’s recommendation.

And I agree with you, Bill. It’s a good read (I wouldn’t go as far as ‘great’) and certainly makes up for me having studied Romans and Vikings in school history lessons rather than something a little more meaningful.

I couldn’t wait to get to Chapter 4 – “The profound influence of French technology”. Without wanting to spoil the fun for those of you still on

The French Minitel, a precursor to the PC

The French Minitel, a precursor to the PC

chapter 3, this reviews the French contribution to military and industrial successes back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Having been in France now for coming up to 25 years (next May), it was interesting to understand the roots of why the French are mad (and very good) at all things technical. How

many of you remember the Minitel, which (if my distant memory isn’t failing me) appeared at around the same time as the PC, if not before, and was certainly a lot more popular…. over here, it never caught on anywhere else.

And it is still the same today. The French are simply great (not finished the sentence yet)… technically. EADS and Dassault in the aerospace industry, TGV trains which rush you home at over 200 mph, Cap Gemini, Logica and Atos Origin all selling you SAP (!!*?).

But what is the French for ‘Lean’. For apart from Freddy and Michael Ballé, we don’t seem to have any great number of experts over here. Certainly, 80 years after Henry Ford and fifty after Taiichi Ohno, there is still a great deal of ignorance on the potential power of Lean.. or even what it all entails.

Which makes the challenge of developing an understanding of Lean even more exciting. Our French blog will hopefully be making an important contribution to that. Watch this (and that) space.

And if anyone has a suggestion for translating Lean…..?

Categories: Lean Business France Tags:

Lean means bucks (up to a point)

October 18th, 2009 admin No comments

Almost ten years ago now, I was party to the ultimate Lean rollout. Big Pharma, big money, big show, big everything.

I was based in France at the time (well, I still am), and as a management team we were booked into a top Parisien hotel for a whole week’s training on how to ‘lead’ Lean Six Sigma implementations. No McKinsey or Accenture this time – no, only the best would do, and we were given what I understood to be ex-military generals and captains etc who had all by coincidence undertaken a career change to become Lean Sigma specialists. With a liking for trips out to Europe, obviously.

It was a good training programme, I must say. Lots of Powerpoint, a little discussion, even a bit of action planning for when we were back in the office. Nothing new though for me personally, as I’d been working with the Lean principles and methods for a number of years already. And I must admit, at the end of that week, I did feel that there had been something missing from the course itself.

The missing piece of the puzzle was the people aspects, and all that, with hindsight, we’d stick under Toyota’s ‘Respect for People’ banner. There had been one section on changing the company’s culture, but nothing on, for example, what to say to the troops back home on day one back in the office. Nothing on handling difficult questions, nothing on how to adapt the managerial style, or on how to work better together as a team.

This was an area that had always fascinated me – how to get people to get things done, and change to better ways of doing it. Therefore, for the past ten years, it has been the subject of a great deal of personal reading, research and, as both a manager and a consultant, of trial and error and learning from successes and mistakes.

For the Big Pharma company in question, Lean definitely meant bucks – monthly reporting on savings against objectives, avoiding double-counting between projects by allocating savings proportionately etc etc – what a load of muda.

For the managers in us, Lean meant changing the way we worked with our teams, and gaining satisfaction from seeing people improve, both as individuals and as teams. There was not anything near like big bucks in all of this, but I’m sure that without our self-implemented ’Respect for People ‘ approach, the monthly reports would have been showing far less impressive savings.

In the current economic context, the human side of business is becoming even more important. I left Big Pharma three years ago, a long time after the Lean buzz has died its agonising death at the Corporate level.

Categories: Respect for People Tags:

Lean and Mean

October 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Well, I did say that this wasn’t going to all too serious, didn’t I?

Me towards the end of the Chicago Marathon
Me towards the end of the Chicago Marathon

This is me towards the end of last Sunday’s Chicago Marathon. Well, towards the middle is closer to the reality, as I’ve got a smile on my face…. and towards the end, I was certainly not smiling.

Marathon running is, in many ways, very similar to the implementation of Lean Management. It is a journey, a full training cycle rather than a short-term sprint. If you are you measuring progress every hour of every day, you are reducing the impact you may have. Get rid of waste – who needs the second whisky? And, most importantly, teamwork, running together, is far more effective than a solo effort.
3h23, two minutes longer than my best time, but put it down to the jet lag, as the conditions and organisation were excellent – regular pacemakers, refreshments where and when they were needed, visual measurements along all of the 26,2 miles. I’m geting carried away here.
But seriously, to both novice and experienced long-distance runners, I can thouroughly recommend the Chicago Marathon. It took a total of six days out of my schedule, but was worth every second. Thanks very much to Anita and the organisation team.
Categories: Lean Business France Tags:

Lean Business France

October 14th, 2009 admin No comments

Hello, and welcome to the Lean Business blog. My name is Peter Klym, and I head up Lean Business France. Based in the south-west of France, but mobile pretty much everywhere (as yet, we’ve had no propositions to work in totally hostile and unwelcoming environments), we provide support to French and international companies in the implementation of the ‘Lean Management System’ (i.e. this is much more that manufacturing) and Supply Chain optimisation programmes and projects, with a little structured Change Management thrown in to give your transformation initiatives the best chances of succeeding.

We offer training from boardroom level to the shop- or office-floor, organise and coordinate management seminars, and accompany company management and their teams on the Lean Supply Chain ‘journey’. Obviously, the precise nature of our interventions depending on a particular customer’s requirements… and we just love adding value. We also propose a structured change management approach, whether it be accompanying future ‘Lean Leaders’ or hand-holding the operational teams on the shop-floor or in the office areas.

That’s the intro. The aim of the blog? I think fundamentally to show that we are a little more human that maybe the cold indifference of a commercial website – (French language) and (English language) – might reveal. We have always considered that training, seminar and improvement activities can also be fun, and this is a key factor in our approach. As secondary objectives, sharing our observations on Lean Supply Chain progress in general is obviously a key one, and giving you the urge to get in touch with us is maybe another (and if you are gluttons for punishment, there’s also the French-language blog ( And no, they are not exact translations of each other.

We won’tbe posting every day, our customer commitments hopefully making it a little difficult, but there will regularly be new material. And if you are interested, please contact us at and maybe we will manage to set up a call or even a face-to-face.

Thanks for reading, will be back in touch soon.

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