Navigation SearchNavigation ContactNavigation Products
Leader Pulse
Leadership ideas, trends, and smarts

Eliminating the 9th Form of Waste

This is the first in a series on The People Side of Lean where we’ll explore trends and talent challenges faced by today’s manufacturing organizations as they strive to make the transformation to lean.

By James Clevenger, Ph.D.

People Side of LeanJames ClevengerLooking for lean? Despite good faith initiatives to identify and eliminate waste, you may have overlooked an "in plain sight" source: workplace interactions.

All interactions between managers and team members are potential sources of waste. These include formal interactions (team meetings, coaching and performance discussions, etc.) and informal (e.g., phone calls, emails, instant messages, and hallway/elevator conversations)—each critical to the day-to-day operations of manufacturing groups.

And, when these interactions don't go well or aren't effective, they can add to the negative impact of the eight recognized forms of waste: defects, overproduction, downtime, underutilized skills, transportation, inventory, motion (e.g., bending, lifting, reaching), and over processing. The end result? Organizations fail to meet essential lean objectives: continuous improvement and improved performance.

In the last 30 years, the practice of lean enterprise and the pursuit of lean transformation have evolved from being a competitive advantage to a necessity of survival. Nearly all businesses, regardless of industry, strive to eliminate waste.

Here we address a ninth form of waste—workplace interactions—that is pervasive, distinctly felt when performed poorly, and yet never equated with other waste forms in its potential to sabotage the success of any lean initiative. Learning to recognize and eliminate this waste form will significantly reduce all the others.

The Skinny on Lean Leadership

Manufacturers, in particular, are heavily invested in reducing the eight forms of waste. Left unaddressed, these wastes (or Muda) significantly impair operational and financial performance.

In the same way, ineffective interactions between leaders and those whom they lead can also affect organizational performance. They create cost without adding any offsetting consumer value, and produce waste that materializes in the form of confusion, conflict, and a lack of commitment to team or organizational goals.

Therefore, if we are serious about eliminating waste, we must give equal consideration to the “softer” side of production, or those skills that allow leaders to manage their interactions and their teams effectively. Trend research shows that the manufacturing industry is hit the hardest by the gap in these soft skills. Additionally, the Accenture 2013 Global Manufacturing Study reveals that 35 percent of supervisors and 20 percent of operational leaders report having “significant” skill gaps.

Lean Into the Process

So how can we improve workplace interactions and eliminate the ninth form of waste? The first step is to treat an interaction as you would any other manufacturing process: You must standardize the workforce interaction. Like delivery, extraction, fabrication, transportation, etc., the interaction process can be systemized to reduce variability and create a repeatable and predictable process. Once the process is established, it can be applied to any type of interaction.

We propose the Interaction EssentialsSM as the proven process for standardizing workforce interactions.

The Interaction EssentialsSM (Figure 1) provide a framework for satisfying the two critical components of effective interactions: the practical and personal needs of the participating parties. This standardized approach includes the Interaction Guidelines—the five steps that target the practical needs of participants by guiding the structure of the conversation. These steps—Open, Clarify, Develop, Agree, and Close—form a process that progresses from the beginning of the interaction, through the engagement of participants, to the resolution.

Interaction EssentialsPersonal needs, meanwhile, are met through the application of a set of Key Principles, (center of Figure 1). The Key Principles guide how participants interact with one another during the conversation and focus on fostering esteem, empathy, involvement, sharing, and support. Meeting personal needs addresses one of the foundational elements of lean: respect for employees. And, the consistent and effective application of the Key Principles builds trust—another fundamental element of successful lean operation. Managers can learn how to utilize these principles to ensure positive interactions (we’ll discuss “how” in the next article in this series).

Two additional process elements—checking for understanding and making procedural suggestions—help keep an interaction going.

Through the use of the Interaction Essentials, interactions such as giving performance feedback, seeking suggestions, or setting performance goals can be standardized, and the waste generated by missing a step or violating the Key Principles can be eliminated.

For example, if managers skip the “open” step (and fail to explain the purpose and importance of the discussion), the conversation has no context. Likewise, if they don’t “clarify” essential background information, the interaction can derail because all involved are not on the same page. Our research shows that a whopping 85 percent of frontline leaders don’t clarify before moving on to discuss an issue.

Also, when leaders fail to seek and listen to employees’ input, they cannot effectively “develop” a course of action. They miss getting great ideas from others and can fail to identify the root cause of the problem. An alarming 94 percent of frontline leaders rely more on their own ideas, instead of involving the people closest to the work—their employees.

Finally, when leaders skip over the “agree” and “close” parts of the process and fail to review the WHOs, WHATs, and WHENs of next steps, there can be no commitment and, consequently, no action. Just think about all the meetings you’ve walked out of, unsure of what was decided and what action items were assigned to whom.

Piling On

In manufacturing, waste begets waste. When interactions between supervisors and their teams are garbled and confusion ensues, defect rates go up, safety is jeopardized, and productivity suffers. Ambiguity around role responsibilities and expectations impacts every aspect of production. And, without clear-cut feedback delivered with both practical and personal needs in mind, the ninth form of waste will likely compound all waste elimination efforts and impede continuous improvement.

The chance to extract great benefits from small changes in human interactions is unprecedented. If you think about the sheer number of conversations that managers have with their teams, and consider the potential significant impact on productivity from ineffective interactions, then tending to the “soft stuff” makes a lot of sense. In our next article, find out how you can standardize interactions for effectiveness by giving your managers the tools they won’t find on the plant floor.

You can browse through additional research on how high-quality interactions and conversations can significantly drive performance and productivity—and eliminate the ninth form of waste.

James Clevenger, Ph.D., strategic account manager, has worked with manufacturing organizations to drive lean principles. For more information, visit or contact him at

Learn how DDI’s Manufacturing practice can help you optimize your talent for the success of your business.

Posted: 23 Jul, 2014,
Talk to an Expert: Eliminating the 9th Form of Waste
* Denotes required field
Consent to DDI Marketing *

I consent to DDI emailing me, collecting my personal data, and processing that information in the provision of services and for the purposes of marketing and research. I am aware of my rights and the ways in which my data will be used as referenced in DDI’s Data Privacy Policy. I am aware I have the right to revoke this consent at any time.

Please enter the number this image
 Security code