Sunday, April 21, 2013

5 Things Great LEAN Leaders DO

One of my core beliefs is that it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR process.  It should be unlawful for others to "fix" the processes of people who do the work every day, sometimes for decades in a row. To sustain continuous improvement so it impacts everyone's wealth, the culture has to shift to the people doing the work steadily, tortoise-like, improving their own processes. The real trick for leaders is to convince people that there are probably improvement opportunities in their processes. I DO believe that 90+% of most processes is the 8 wastes. Unfortunately, you need to use the lean tools to SEE it. Oh, sure, there is low hanging fruit that anyone can see. Once you get past that, the waste is almost invisible, particularly to the people who do it (too close to the forest to see the trees). 

Assuming you are with me so far, the next question is. "if it isn't the bosses job to fix people's processes, then what is it, with regard to continuous improvement?" Here are the top five things leaders need to do in an organization where lean works:

1. DEMONSTRATE that getting better is important. How do you demonstrate it? If you are using A3 and have dozens of projects going on simultaneously, make it part of your standardized work to pick a project off the board (1 per day, or 3 per week), and go ask the A3 leader about it. All you have to do is go see them, and say I see you are leading this project, what's it about, will you show me? When I do that, people are MORE than happy to show me! I promise you that they will tell their friends at lunchtime, maybe even their spouses, that you came to find out. People want to be caught doing what they think the boss thinks is important. 

2. Show up at A3 closings. The closings are so important on so many levels. Of course, the A3 team is sharing what they've learned with their peers. They are teaching HOW the improvements were made (the thinking). The closing is also a transfer of OWNERSHIP, where the A3 leader is the teacher, and the bosses are the students. Raise your hand and ask a question at the closing, and maybe publicly tell everyone how brilliant the team is and how thankful you are for their effort.

3. Help people get their teams together for 15-20 minute A3 meetings. I have been involved in thousands of A3s, and the single most difficult thing for a person on the floor to do is to get his team together. He or she needs help! For the boss to call a meeting, it's easy-just send an Outlook invite. For someone on the factory floor, not so easy. Particularly if the team members he needs are NOT on the floor (a buyer, an engineer, an accountant or maintenance person). If an A3 leader has a meeting right after break at 10:30 am, I would go see his invitees first thing in the morning to remind them and to make sure they are there for him. There is nothing more defeating than calling a meeting, and 2 out of the four don't show up because they found some fire that needed fighting. By showing up early in the morning, I again was demonstrating that it was important to me that they show up for Joe.

4. LISTEN! I would argue that this is the most difficult skill for leaders to master. To create a culture of leadership, we need to answer questions with questions, or better yet, just LISTEN AGGRESSIVELY! This is one of the ways we demonstrate respect for people, and it is part of the transfer of ownership that is needed for EXTREME results with lean. The problem is, the reason they make us the boss is because we have all the answers. I learned SO much about my company when I mastered the skill of shutting up!

5. BE PATIENT! Lean is no magic bullet. It's a marathon, not a sprint when it is done right. Financial results, particularly huge improvements in productivity (doing more with the same) will come. It took my company about two years before we could take the training wheels off, and it was self sustaining. Sales ended up increasing 80% before we had to add an additional person. Griping, arguing and resisting turned into "One of the Best Companies to Work in Connecticut (4 times)." DON'T punt on first or second down. Understand that to do it right, it is literally a process of capturing hearts and minds, one at a time. Try not to sabotage this progress by acting like a superior...i.e. "because I said so."

As a consultant for 17 months now, I can report that I see incredible examples of lean leadership every week, and you've had the chance to read about them here in my posts. Remember, people want to be caught doing what they think YOU think is important. Is LEAN important?   

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