People do yoga for all sorts of reasons, which is to say it’s situational. People come to it with an ailment or injury, a need to release tapas (stress/anxiety/heat), for freedom of expression, or on a search for new perspective. As John Shook often says, lean is situational, too.
Whatever the cause, we become connected through this practice aimed at raising consciousness, called yoga. Yoga is more than the physical movement of postures (asanas); it’s a mindset. It offers a higher state of awareness, a source of knowledge and truth, a sense of peacefulness, a feeling of moving with ease and efficiency. As a result, we are more adept to deal with life’s challenges and the constant state of change.
Likewise, a successful lean culture is more than just the tools and industry standards required to do the work. It’s a mindset. It’s changing our perspective on HOW we work. And that’s how Lean applies to the mission and values of the company I work for, lululemon athletica, a yoga inspired technical athletic apparel company. Grounded in yoga and meditation, therein lies an understanding that mindfulness contributes to increased performance. For this reason, a lean culture aligns with the company at the core. Like others, we find parallels between Yoga, as a set of exercises (asanas) to heighten the state of mind or consciousness, and lean as a set of tools (exercises) to work smarter.
Great yogis, leaders, and companies are continuously learning. I work for an organization deeply rooted in growing, developing, and innovating. I have enough humility to know I don’t have all the answers. And the longer I embark on this journey, the less I know. Growth comes from finding comfort in the discomfort, welcoming failures and humility, and embracing change.
Authentic growth comes through caring and developing people first. This doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to find ways to streamline processes, implement automation, and utilize tools and technology to innovate world-class product. But it’s done in a way in which our people and culture remain a priority. Our purpose is not to "ship product to stores as fast as humanly possible." That’s not why we’re here. That’s not what causes transformation and it's certainly not what made us who we are a company. When organizations drive productivity based on metrics, the work is forced. More important than establishing productivity targets, people are held accountable to personal integrity and responsibility. By focusing on people development, the productivity follows.
At lululemon, the lean journey started by applying tools in distribution, supply chain, and logistics. The foundation of the work is set with a focus on process standardization, 5S, and safety. There is value in documenting operating processes, and moving toward standardizing processes world-wide. It is a priority to be in relationship with our people by investing time on the floor, where the real work is happening.
The possibility that has been created for Lean is that it can lead the way we work in all functional departments, framing the conversation around reducing waste, implementing sustainable practices, and increasing productivity and efficiency with our guests. And doing so in a mindful way, driving a continuous feedback cycle. I am part of a coachable collective with a commitment to elevating the world from mediocrity to greatness. Lean is one of the tools that sets us up for success.
So, what’s next? How does one become an even better steward of this lean movement? Anja is a Sanskrit word meaning, "the answer lies within." The lean advantage lies in leveraging people and talents and inspiring greatness. I’ve made the distinction in many ways: it’s a movement, action, a journey, a consistent and committed practice. And the change starts from within. There will always be opportunities, the work will always be there. Yoga allows us to slow down and create mindfulness in the moment. Lean and yoga focus us on the right questions: Who are we being? Are we doing the right work at the right time? Are we doing it right the first time? Are we asking the right questions? Lean may seem like a distraction to operations, but if you change your mindset, and allow yourself to open up to the power of Lean, it becomes the way of operating more efficiently, with flow and ease, creating space do more with our work and lives.
While the goal of Lean is to streamline processes, I know that true success does not look like a straight line—the “process map” of learning and progress itself has curves, spirals, mins, and maxes. There is an aspect of change that involves trial and error, of committing to paths yet to be explored. Having a culture of humility is key to identifying opportunities and remaining open to possibilities.
Yoga and Lean are both a continuous practice. What keeps me committed to the practice is an understanding that whatever shows up on the mat and the "waste" identified in work is all part of this journey of growth and development. At lululemon, a lean journey has only just begun. It starts with having an open mind, exercising the tools, committing to the process, tracking progress and growth, stepping out of the comfort zone and onto the court to explore new paths and ideas.
As we continue to extend our reach, the need to stay lean will be an even greater focus. Lean provides the power stance to stay grounded in our core values and to stand for a mission of effecting healthy change in more communities around the world.
*Views expressed in this article are of the author, not those of lululemon athletica
Jim Luckman, Karl Ohaus & Tom Shuker
Jim Luckman, Karl Ohaus & Tom Shuker