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Saturday, June 20, 2009

No "Fat" Behavior, Please

Transforming a traditional organization to a lean organization is about creating a cultural change. The only way to create a sustainable cultural change is to change behavior. Many lean initiatives have failed from complications in changing behavior. Bob Emiliani who has studied lean transformations and lean behaviors was the first to use the term “fat” behavior.

In production environments waste is defined as actions that consume resources but do not add value to a product in the eyes of the customer. Many in the lean community are relentlessly and systematically eliminating this waste which limits business performance and threaten prosperity. Why hasn’t the concept of waste been extended to the behaviors of individuals and groups within the workplace? Perhaps it is harder to recognize and much harder to quantify.

The concept of “lean” behaviors is analogous to lean production. Lean behaviors are defined simply as behaviors that add or create value. It is the minimization of waste associated with arbitrary or contradictory thoughts and actions that leads to defensive behavior, ineffective relationships, poor co-operation, and negative attitudes. A person exhibiting lean behaviors is most easily recognizable by their ability to resist the temptation to contribute wasteful verbal or gestural content to conversations. While, fat behaviors are defined as behaviors that add no value and can be eliminated. They include the display of irrational and confusing information that results in delays or work stoppages, or the articulation of unsubstantiable subjective thoughts and opinions. Fat behaviors are recognizable as lots of talk where nothing has actually been said, or indirect words whose meanings are subject to variable interpretations. Fat behavior results in waste while lean behavior promotes flow between people.

It is hard to recognize the tremendous waste that normally exists in intra- and interpersonal relationships. Below is a table that compares common fat behaviors with selected lean behaviors:

Many of the consequences of fat behaviors relate to the loss of employee commitment. Employees, who do not feel they are being heard, will reduce their participation in the business. Over time, they feel more alone, less confident in themselves and their decisions, and become less committed to achieving the goals of the organization. They may become complacent in their work area because of their deteriorated attitude, which in turn reduces their performance and lowers their potential for future opportunities. The economic impact of fat behaviors is felt not only by the employee, but by the company as well since its workers may not have the commitment or energy to meet the demands of competition in a global market.

Fat behavior prevents us from improving and this leads to poor performance due to costly delays, rework, and poor co-operation. Far too often effective employees are those we characterize as “Heroes” and “Firefighters”. Unfortunately it is difficult to reflect, strategize, or engage in root cause analysis of problems since reward systems are well aligned with crisis management. Management and lean leaders have the primary responsibility for being in-tolerant to fat behaviors. Just like the seven wastes within lean operations behaviors also exhibit the same wastes. Below is an example of the behavioral seven wastes.

I think we all know people in our workplace who may exhibit behaviors like the ones below:

We must practice the equally important Toyota principle “Respect for People”.

The “Respect for People” principle consists of two parts: “Respect” and “Teamwork,” and is as follows:
“RESPECT: We respect others, make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and do our best to build mutual trust.
TEAMWORK: We stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development and maximize individual and team performance.”

The lean community must teach others to eliminate “fat” behavior like we do other wastes by advocating and practicing “Respect for People” so that organizations can truly transform to a Lean culture with lean behaviors.


  1. This is So true. I like the term "Fat behaviour". It describes so well how uncapable people can be in their interaction if that fat is around them. What ever tools people by or make changes in the processes, they will not reach the targets, get sustainable development etc. Everything really is up to human behaviour :)