Aug 14, 2008

Can a lean culture lead to peace?

Last October in Chicago I met some of the leaders from Bidco Oil of Kenya. Doc Hall later told me about some interesting aspects of Bidco's implementation of lean -- Gemba Kaizen in their parlance -- Maasaki Imai has been one of their guides.

I kept thinking of the Bidco people when Kenya erupted in violence a few months ago. I had heard that there were some problems maintaining their extraordinarily slender and customized distribution chains, and thought I'd check their website to see how they were faring. This press release caught my attention:


Following the delayed release of the 2007 General Election results, chaos erupted in most parts of the country. There were nationwide protests and an outbreak of violence seemingly driven by ethnic and perceived political affiliation. Thanks to pro-active policies and a strong fabric of cultural diversity, combined with swift decision by the management, it was business as usual at BIDCO.

A committee was formed to deal with all emerging cases related to the post election violence. It comprised of staff from each department and of all ethnical and racial background. All the workers were asked to suggest practical solutions and responses that the employees should take in order to foster the strap line of “Happy Healthy Living”.

Among the measures that the employees suggested and then acted upon were that there was to be no political talk in the offices, no talking in vernacular language in the offices or at the Gembas (places of work), No scare mongering, No sending of hate messages/emails/talk/sms etc, and No hypocrisy. All these were aimed at encouraging unity in diversity amongst the staff.

BIDCO encourages openness at all levels of management by involving all employees in decision making and reorienting employees on to the organization goals. This has helped make every employee feel important and resourceful to the company. There are also clearly set out recruitment policies where the company hires staff purely on merit. At BIDCO, everything is about team work; hence employees have realized that they need each other to succeed, despite their ethnic or racial background. All this is aimed at ensuring ‘Happy Healthy Living’ amongst Bidco’s employees.

Anyone's PR department could say something like this, of course, but I'm inclined to believe it. Bidco has an unusual grasp of cultural diversity, to the point where they have a deep understanding of home laundry practices among people of various tribes in Kenya and other African countries they have markets in.

I'm sure the challenge was not as simple as the press release makes out, but in this uncertain world, it is encouraging to see what attention to a fair and cohesive team culture can accomplish.

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