Leadership teams traditionally like to keep processes efficient and organizations structured to maximize profits. Executives and managers know how to look at a process and discard the waste. This corporate instinct has grown the Canadian and American economies substantially over the decades.
Now I can’t help notice that a trend toward leanness is creeping into other aspects of life. Minimalism in design is now mainstream, and radical downsizing trends are New York Times bestsellers. What does all of this minimalism mean for organizational management or corporate leadership? What can minimalism teach us about leadership and lean processes that we don’t already know? I have some ideas.
- A lean process without joy will not be effective. Marie Kondo in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” stresses that any attempt to organize will fail if it does not spring from joy. Her constant call to ask “does this spark joy?” reiterates that the result of organizing a closet should not be about throwing away a certain amount of things, but by eliminating useless or joyless objects in favor of real authenticity. In management terms, this means a department can’t be lean just because it has four rather than eight employees if the team members leftover are demotivated.
- Lean processes will stick better if they are felt and experienced. Futurist John Wallman, author of Stuffocation, experimented with minimalist living by putting all of his belongings into storage and only retrieving them as needed. This process showed him which items were of real need and added meaning to his life. In a management context, having key stakeholders experience the process of elimination goes a long way.
- Transparency means an authentic process is as good as a lean process. In the Guardian Wallman explained that America has rejected conspicuous consumption in favor of “experientialism” or as he explained, ”focusing on having nice experiences instead of on acquiring more stuff.” Through social media experiences are shared and admired more than the status symbols of the past. The transparency of social media has also changed the corporate world. The way a process appears and how it affects employees, customers, and the community at large is now just as important as the output. In the past the only thing that has touched the customer has been the product. Now the entire process and culture of the company is now available to influence overall brand.
The Amazon workload scandal and Volkswagon Emissions-gate indicate that corporate culture is at the forefront of American corporate consciousness. Infusing lean processes with elements of minimalist trends of today, can help keep corporate cultures in mind when improving processes and procedures.