Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reader Question: Management Involvement In Lean

A long time reader, Dave, recently asked me for advice on leadership commitment for Lean implementation:
Can Lean be successful if you don’t have top down commitment? I currently work for a midsize manufacturer that only like to say they are Lean, when in reality they only have one division attempting. Any advice?
In my experience I have learned that the single most important element for success in Lean is the human element.   First and foremost Lean managers have the critical role of motivating and engaging all people to work together toward a common goal. Management must define and explain what that goal is, share a path to achieve it, motivate people to take the journey with them, and assist them by removing obstacles.

Lean requires top-to-bottom leadership of a special kind. Lean leaders are firm and inspiring, relentless and resilient, demanding and forgiving, focused and flexible. Above all, they have to be smart and highly respected in the organization. Every successful company has at least one of these leaders. These people must be a passionate part of the Lean leadership team.

All managers are teachers, and their actions determine company capability. Whether consciously or not, with their everyday words and actions all managers are teaching their people a mindset and approach.

The level of involvement in Lean by the management team often shapes the Lean implementation and those who may lead it. In my experience the less knowledgeable the management about REAL Lean (Bob Emiliani’s term) the more they think of it as a set of tools the more they want you to just do it. These are the managers that are usually hands-off with Lean and want to see the short term gains to demonstrate they are improving the process. They are focused on the results and outcomes and not the means by which we achieve them. This task oriented approach to management unfortunately is only sustainable while the doer is doing.

Most management teams don’t understand Lean. When we don’t understand something it is next to impossible to support it. This lack of understanding of Lean by management allows even the most subtle of things to derail Lean efforts.

However those managers who truly know Lean understand the benefit comes from developing people to think and improve their own process the more they define the role as influencing or coaching. As Mike Rother said in Toyota Kata management must focus on how solutions are developed. Develop, via practice with coaching, the capability in people to develop new solutions. In this view the Lean leader can have the biggest impact coaching or influencing the process of improvement to capture the ingenuity of those in the organization.

Commitment from management is a “MUST”. In fact, it is the driving force. Procedures, tools, and database are all useless if the management does not want to see an improvement culture in the organization. The employees of the organization will not care, if the management themselves do not show the attitude to follow the right path.

The truth is demonstrating commitment is hard work. Wavering commitment is usually seen as no commitment at all. The only way to achieve a reputation for commitment is through determination and persistence. Genuine commitment stands the test of time.

Ways you can develop a successful Lean culture and demonstrate your commitment as a leader include:

  • Allocating time, money, and resources to continuous improvement
  • Eliminating road blocks that prevent progress
  • Providing effective training and knowledge in problem solving methodology and countermeasure tools
  • Encouraging and empowering opportunities for improvement
  • Valuing employees ideas and contributions
  • Involving employees in decisions
  • Frequent open and honest 2-way communication
  • Set standards and create systems of work
  • Go to the Gemba where the action is
Commitment is demonstrated by a combination of two actions. The first action is called supporting. The second action underlying commitment is called improving. It is the combination of both supporting and improving behaviors that makes up the practice of commitment. Company leaders demonstrate their commitment to change and improvement by making these behaviors visible to everyone. Leading by example is the ultimate demonstration of your commitment.

Getting executives in your company to want to support and then adopt Lean Thinking may be difficult but not impossible. We would all like to work at a company where the top people in the organization don’t just do Lean but live Lean but many of us work at a place where they don’t even necessarily do Lean. Since every company culture is different the way to get executive buy-in will be different. Here is a list of ideas to help you convince your management to start thinking Lean:

• Bring Executives to customers who are implementing Lean to benchmark and understand how to better service these customer.
• Define core guiding principles from which common ground and a common vision set the basis for improvement.
• Understand what your leaders are supposed to do not what they are doing. The improvement you make must “replace” not be “additive”.
• How to get leaders “Doing” the right things – Focus on capabilities
       o Have them concentration on what they can do, not what
          they can’t do.
                 How is your process working?
                 Where is your process broken?
                 What doesn’t work well?
                 What can you do about it?
• Survey the workforce- solve their problems.
        o What do you like? (in Company, Department, Daily Job)
        o What do you wish you could change? (in Company,
           Department, Daily Job)
• All the manager should understand they are leaders.
        o Example of engineers not thinking they are leaders.
        o Need to lead up and down the organization.
• Understand where you are in the organization.
        o You can’t change it all by yourself- teamwork.
        o Everyone’s input is valuable – listen and let them be
• Get quick, easy wins (Someone gave example of the companies first Kanban was in the break room for sugar).

If you want to learn more about educating Executives in Lean you should read Bob Emiliani’s book Moving Forward Faster.  I recommended this book in a review a few months ago if you want to understand what REAL Lean is and how to support it or lead it in your organization.

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