The “New Normal” and why it’s not Lean

It was an average Tuesday and I was working as an engineer at a large Aerospace manufacturer here in Connecticut. My boss sent me an email asking me to follow up on something for him because his boss needed an answer quick, which wasn’t unusual. What was off-center was that he had taken a vacation day that day.

“Sure… but aren’t you on vacation today?”, I replied.

lean-desk“Yup”, he says, “but I’m still working. Welcome to the New Normal”.

In today’s business world, there’s an expectation of 24/7 coverage. It used to be pagers – now it’s smart phones. I once had a boss who, if I didn’t return an email from him in less than 10 minutes, would text &/or call me. We want it, and we want it now! “Sense of Urgency” has gone from being an actual sense to meaning everything is urgent all the time. And it’s taking its toll.

Being Lean means planning ahead – not managing triage. We need to have a plan not for just the day-to-day stuff we know about, but for the abnormal conditions, too. What do we do when something goes awry? Who do we contact, and do they know what to do? More often than not, this is where companies fail to implement proper Lean practice. Something doesn’t go quite right and all hell breaks loose. Bosses start texting and paging. People start jumping with no clear direction, and duplication of efforts abound. The job gets done, but in perhaps the most inefficient way possible. If you’ve ever read “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox, you’ll know what I’m talking about (If you haven’t – I highly recommend it!).

That boss I had? A few months later, he had a nervous breakdown. He had gone to his doctor with some off-and-on chest pains, and immediately they admitted him. His job was literally killing him. The constant pressure of “Everything all the time” had finally taken its toll. I remember the looks on everyone’s face in the conference room when we were told. They ranged from “I can see that” to “When is this going to stop?”. The oddest thing was that no one was shocked. We’d all become so accustomed to the New Normal that we couldn’t even see our own eventual demise.

When you implement Lean practices, make the commitment to Lean out the New Normal. Nothing will help your employee engagement more!

New England Lean Consulting is a full service Lean partner serving Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. We offer comprehensive Training programs as well as direct Consulting services. Contact us at for more information.