It’s not news that most change initiatives fail because of lack of CEO involvement. Most CEOs are simply delegating responsibility down the workforce ladder to accomplish Lean results. These CEOs often view lean as a tool rather than a business philosophy. Focusing on tools, such as the 5S organization method, will produce limited results because the company culture still has not changed.
To become Lean, every process must indeed be examined and refined; but even more fundamentally, every mind must be trained for situational awareness and instinctive efficiency. As long as things could be improved, it is the role of the executive to take responsibility and make sure they are indeed changing for the better. However, this change cannot be forced from the outside, but must occur naturally; and only an executive has the influence to plant the seeds of change deep enough. Sure, there are improvements to be made simply by employing some of the tools and practices developed in the TPS, but without an executive leading by example and motivating managers and employees to higher standards of performance and efficiency, any enhancements that happen will not stand the test of time.
CEOs have the critical role of motivating and engaging all people to work together toward a common goal. They 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. It’s important to recall that Lean is mostly about empowering collaborators to spot problems and imagine solutions that they implement, measure and standardize where appropriate. This is basic PDCA and scientific method.
We certainly don’t want the CEO to solve problems on behalf of employees, for that would prevent them from learning (and he probably doesn’t have time for that anyway).
Simply put, the role of a Lean CEO is to coach, on the gemba, his middle managers into coaching, on the gemba, their employees into the scientific method (PDCA) in order to move current processes to a vision of one-piece-flow.
CEOs should serve as a Lean coach or mentor to key staff members, not only empowering the employees but holding them accountable for their results. Lean CEOs 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.
Commitment from management on Lean 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 executives 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.
Lean is a journey, not a destination. As a consequence, a Lean CEO is always learning and there’s no end to that. Properly supported and rewarded, Lean will produce a positive environment to make continuous improvement a way of life…everyone will win!