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Rabbits, Turtles and Foxes The Characters in a Lean Transformation.

An article in the UK Lean Newsletter defined that there are three types of Lean participants - Rabbits, Turtles and Foxes.

It is our job as Lean leaders to recognize and handle each accordingly. As Lean also becomes more mainstream I am beginning to witness what I call “Veneer Lean”. These are folks that have been exposed to some Lean tools and now believe that they are experts of Lean without truly understanding the depth and complexity required behind the scenes to enable simplicity at the surface … hence many Lean initiatives do not deliver the results that could be accomplished. However any Enterprise Excellence transformation requires foot soldiers so recognizing the types and how to lead them is important.


Those who buy in and hit the ground running. Rabbits see immediate benefit from Lean and want to get started yesterday. With a little education on the tools and concepts, they are ready to lead the rest of the facility on this journey. The challenge they present is keeping them motivated and moving forward. If improvements don't come fast enough, they'll loose focus. Then you have wild rabbits running all over the farm. However, they can be fantastic assistance in the early phases of your project, adding necessary fuel to the fire. I have found rabbits in salaried, hourly, support, direct and even Union labor. Even today, some of my most valuable Lean leaders are informal, direct and hourly labor employees. These are the people who get pulled from their “regular” jobs to lead kaizen events and other continuous improvement projects throughout the entire business, not just their department.


Those who don't buy in for a long time. However, when they are converted, Turtles are often more valuable than Rabbits. They are often your sustain agents, where Rabbits are your change agents. The challenge they present is not to judge them too early (often as Foxes). Keep showing them results until they convert. Once they convert, they will often be your staunchest supporters. They provide excellent leaders [at times called Lend-Forwards] to other areas of the facility that may be slow to convert. Traditionally, they are also indirect leaders, those others quietly look to for direction. During a conversation recently, a direct labor employee (now one of our “turtles”) informed us that he wasn’t very convinced when we installed the cell, but now he really loves the fact that he knows exactly what he has to do “now” and “next”.


Those who talk like they buy in, but their actions will [eventually] give them away as non-believers. These 'rascals' can either make decisions which countermand Lean or they can be so bold as to speak out against Lean to the lower ranks (behind your back), destroying any culture you attempt to build. Foxes are difficult to convert, and are often those who are moved to better fitting positions or "choose" to move into a different career. There is one other significant problem with Foxes, some are 'sleeper' foxes. Think of someone hypnotized who doesn't remember doing something. These 'sleepers' are often making ‘unlean’ decisions daily and don't realize what they are doing is counter-productive [some decisions are so natural that we don't really see how negatively they impact the cultural change potential. For Lean Leaders, it's not enough merely to be a good leader, but

to recognize who in your facility (or more importantly, who - above you) is a Leader and who is a Fox. It's all about the respect for people. You may, but if others in leadership positions don't, they can destroy your Lean matter how good your leadership skills are. That's why Toyota is so selective on their hiring process. They are looking for people who fit the mould (standardized work?) for leadership positions.

There is no magic pill for Lean initiatives. The Lean process requires time, commitment, and determination. Companies that cannot envision the long-term commitment to Lean, and only use the tools for short-term gain, will achieve some limited success. However, without the culture supporting those tools, the Lean initiative will fail, becoming the "flavor of the week" that everyone knew would not last.

“Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat? The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity. People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’” - Taiichi Ohno


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