Culture Change – Things will never be the same after 5S

Things will never be the same after 5S

5S and Culture Change


True Story:    The first time I led a 5S event I was nervous.  The night before I went to bed nervous, thinking about the next day.  “What if no one wants to do it” I thought? The next day I rounded up a small group of production associates as “volunteers” for the plant’s first 5S event.  They didn’t know it, but this hapless group were pioneers.


The plan was to clean and organize only the 1st station of a 9 station assembly line. This was “pilot” run.

At first there was resistance and grumbling. After a few hours, this subsided. At this point, they were going through the motion (“hostile obedience” I call it).  Their hearts weren’t in it but they completed the first step of 5S.  We pulled everything out of the work space and placed it in to a nearby aisle (Sort).

Things get worse.

Then we combed through all the items and the mood got hostile. “You want us to throw all these tools away but still get the job done”?! This was getting rough.  At that moment someone yelled out “I just found the same tool again”!  It was a magical moment.  We found a double for a tool that was considered “precious”.  Then a triple, then a ….Some tools had 5 identical matches! How could anything be precious if there were 5 of them? How did we not know there were so many duplicates? Simple – the place was a disorganized mess.  This event energized my small band.  Soon they were busy on their own accord organizing and cleaning everything at the station with renewed energy.  At the end of the day our 1st workstation was 5S finished.  The day was coming to a close and my phone rang.  It was from a customer that needed me to visit their plant.  “I need to travel tomorrow, we’ll finish the next stations when I get back” I told them.  I was upset as I knew our team’s momentum would evaporate.

When I returned to work I went immediately to the assembly line.  I looked for the work we had completed prior and to my surprise my “pilot” team had taken it upon themselves to continue the 5S work.  They had progressed to station #4 while the boss had been away.  In a short period of time we went from hostility to a passionate embrace of 5S. The team embraced 5S – the culture had changed.

I couldn’t stop the 5S momentum in the plant if I wanted to.  The plant adopted it as their own.

Managers and company stakeholders push 5S because they see the benefits in productivity and profit.  Truth is, 5S makes it a better place to work and employees value it.  Once employees see the benefits of 5S they won’t support, they will demand it.

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