Lean Storytelling


I recently listened to a Gemba Academy podcast (www.gembapodcast.com episode 116) on Storytelling and Lean. There were some great points I thought would be of use to this community.

Ultimately, Lean is about people.  However, when practitioners talk about Lean they tend to talk more about facts and figures – cycle time reductions, cost savings, etc.  The presenter for this podcast was Jacob Stoller (www.jacobstoller.com) author of the book “The Lean CEO”.  He interviewed leaders who were able to effectively develop lean cultures within their companies.  It was here that he first came to appreciate the power of storytelling for promoting the benefits of Lean.

Stories are great tools for touching people’s hearts and minds.  Neuroscience shows that when people listen to stories, that more regions of their brain light up than when they watch a presentation filled with facts and figures.  This  effect is amplified when someone can put themselves into the story and it resonates with their experience.

To instill a Lean culture you need to change people’s beliefs.  Great stories touch emotions.  In the podcast there is an example of a story told during a presentation of the results of a process improvement project.  The leader asked one of the workers who was part of the project, how that project had impacted him personally.   The man told the leader that now he talked to his wife more.  When asked to explain, he said that since being part of the lean project, he felt more fulfilled at work, his ideas were recognized and he had a chance to become more engaged in his job.  So, instead of going home at the end of the day feeling beaten down, he left with a more positive attitude.  This carried over to his relationship with his family and as a result, he and his wife were getting along better.

This is a story everyone can relate to.  The facts of the project might only be of interest to someone in a similar position or industry, but the human impact is something everyone can relate to.

To help people begin to craft their own stories.  Jacob offered the acronym CRAVE – Certification, Relevance, Authenticity, Values, andEphany.

  • Certification. You have to have some credible evidence to back up the point you are trying to make.  You want people to believe you.  You just don’t have to hit people over the head with numbers, statistics, and graphs.
  • Relevance.  Make sure your example is one your audience can relate to, otherwise you will lose them.
  • Authenticity.  This is about people.  You need to make it a human story and people need to believe you are being honest and sharing something of yourself with them.
  • Values.  The story should touch on common values that everyone is working toward.  The purpose of the Lean project should relate back to some core value.  Make it meaningful to the organization.
  • Epiphany. This is the “ah ha” moment where something is learned.  The person who learned something can be either the person telling the story or the person listening to the story.  Though it is usually more powerful if the person telling the story shares something he/she learned.

Jacob’s parting thought is where there is smoke there is fire.  Whenever you have a Lean success, there is somebody who got really excited and did something.  Look for the inspiring results and talk to the people involved.  Try to understand the human impact of the project from their perspective.  Then write up the stories so they can be shared and also to have a record of not just the projects you completed but also the human side of those projects.

Author: Joyce A Gustafson

Passionate about continuous improvement, "working out loud", and constantly learning. Reviving this blog after a long absence. Recently moved to Maine and loving it! NOTE: This is my personal blog and the thoughts and opinions are my own. This blog does NOT represent the view and opinions of my employer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s