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Respect humanity is a key point of lean and trust is at the heart of the concept. How can you empower without trust? How can you build a team without trust? Will you act on suggestions and input from other areas without trust? But what does trust look like and act like in your business? Trust is a level of understanding and relationship. It enables vendors, employees, and customers to move forward and not have to check their backs. During times of instability, it creates the courage to continue with the plan. How much does your company spend in terms of time and dollars related to a lack of trust? From your customer, associates, and vendors how much waste is associated with trust issues? Also, how much do vendors, customers, and employees trust you and your business?

As Max Depree discussed in Leadership is an Art, make sure you understand that relationships count more than structure. This statement suggests that relationships and trust will always trump policy just like culture trumps strategy. To this end, let’s face our reality, ask the questions and then develop the actions to remove these barriers.

Start with yourself – Do you trust your customers, team mates, vendors? Do they trust you? What are you currently doing with the people around that instills or damages their trust in you? What steps, even small ones, can you do today to improve trust? What can I do today that will make a positive difference in the level of trust and understanding of the people I work with?

Customers – This may seem like an odd question but how many times have you added inventory because you don’t trust the information you are receiving from your customer?

Has a lack of trust made you change terms for a customer? Has a lack of trust put one customer’s requirements not as important as another customer? Have you been burned by a customer that changes course faster than you can react? Sometimes the customer doesn’t know as much as they need to about their business. Maybe the customer has been burned by your business and they create a buffer. What can you do today to improve your trust of the customer and the customer’s trust of you? It could be as simple as a phone call or as complicated as an incentive program to promote trust. These small steps can impact finished goods inventory, overall profit margin, and give insights into planned obsolescence of products as well as new product lines.

Peers / Associates – Do you trust your peers and associates to do what is right from the standpoint of the customer and the business? Do you trust the associates enough to give them information about the business, the customers, and the future? Information starvation is usually a trust issue. There is so much creativity and effectiveness lost when trust is absent. What can be done about this? Open up the information. The quarterly business review is not enough for floor employees nor the business leaders to make effective decisions. Everyone in a business is in the same boat with the same basic needs.  Trust is the foundation of job relevance and the manager employee relationship regardless what level. What roles are employees playing? Is QC the spoiler at the end of the shift or are they contributing solutions on the floor with the employees? Does purchasing really know how the materials work through the process from receiving to conversion? Trust will be built by people working together, not meeting together. You need floor and front line employee input and you can only get it by going to them not them coming to you. The level of trust in this area can impact total labor, training, purchasing, and scheduling costs. Also, through trust, succession planning can be created, embraced and fulfilled.

Vendors – Vendors are people just like you and me trying to do the best they can for their customer. They are a resource that sustains our existence. They should be looked at as a strategic partner. What are the trust issues? Do you carry extra inventory because you don’t trust their delivery? Do you QC incoming materials because you can’t count on their commitment to Quality? Do you have three vendors waiting for the guy to slip up because you are looking for a lower cost? Why? Have you communicated what your needs / requirements adequately? Listen, talk, understand. What one action could you take today that would improve quality, delivery, and / or knowledge between you and your vendor? Improving trust can positively impact raw material inventory, cost of poor quality, and overall raw material costs.  Sometimes vendors do not work out and you as a company may need to find another source but it should be well understood why and that answer needs to be more than cost per unit. Trust works both ways.

Trust is something that may be intangible and felt more than a line item on a P&L and yet it is at the very heart of business and once this is understood and addressed, the benefits will be tangible and manifold.


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