Monday, February 12, 2018

Lean Culture: Do You Want Firemen or Farmers in Your Organization


The successful implementation of a Lean culture is dependent on management's willingness to fully involve and engage their workers in the process. So if Lean is about people the question is what type of people do we want leading the charge. Let’s look at two types: Firemen and Farmers.

The fireman works hard in short bursts. As problems fester they turn into a crisis and flare up. Firemen are need to swoop in a put out the flames. They never know what they are going to expect until they get to the fire. Firemen focus on quick actions. Firefighting derives from what seems like a reasonable set of rules--investigate all problems, for example, or assign the most difficult problems to your best troubleshooter. But firefighting consumes an organization's resources and damages productivity.

Firefighting is popular because it is exciting. Most of us deplore the firefighting style, yet many managers and organizations perpetuate it by rewarding firefighters for the miraculous things they do. If the fix works out, the fire fighter is a hero. If it doesn’t, the fire fighter can’t be blamed, because the situation was virtually hopeless to begin with. Notice that it is to the fire fighter’s advantage to actually let the problem become worse, because then there will be less blame if they fail or more praise if they succeed.

The farmer on the other hand works constantly from sun up to sun down.  Farmers in general take a more steady approach. The work is predictable and tied to a bigger plan. Farmers take the long view, and will work for long time to see it through to completion. 

Farmers are shepherds and develop long term relationships. Farmers are patient with others. The patience that it takes to watch a plant grow for five months is easily translated into patience with a coworker who wants to explain a problem or situation.

Farmers are cautious. Farming doesn’t often demand that a person face short-term danger. Farmers learn, instead, to face the more long-term dangers. They’re often better planners than they are fighters.


Implementing Lean Thinking is a cultural change that requires leadership…because in the end it’s all about people. What type of person do you want leading your change? Fireman or Farmer?

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1 comment:

  1. Burning platform? Fire fighters.
    Melting iceberg? Farmers.

    ReplyDelete