Sunday, February 9, 2014

Building a Lean Coaching Staff

If you are one of the 56,000 or so people kind enough to read my blog, I am sure you get the idea that the key to a lean strategy that "pays off" is really about developing people. The "tools" are secondary. "Pays off" means leveraging operational excellence to create market disruption. "Lean" is too hard to do to settle for anything less than causing a stir in your marketplace, because your customers receive what they want (quality products & answers) faster than anywhere else they can go spend their money.  

The 2nd "P" of P4 is "Continuous Develop Your People and Partners". It goes without saying that a key group of people that you need to be continuously developing are the foremen, supervisors, shift leaders, etc. Most of the initial focus of your lean strategy will be in convincing the people who actually DO the value added work to continuously make small, reversible improvements in their own work. (remember that it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR work). As improvements are made and communicated at A3 closings, you will see an incredible sense of ownership in these people. Nothing takes the air of the balloon faster than one of the "bosses" loudly telling an employee "because I said so!"

Like LEAN itself, developing coaches is all about "learn by doing". The advantage of having an A3 board full of projects is the opportunity it gives your company to easily develop very good coaches. They can get plenty of practice. Your coaching staff CANNOT consist of only your lean champion(s). Several of my customers completed over 150 A3s last year, and that is very difficult to sustain without the direct involvement of what Toyota calls "team leaders", To transition people from foreman to coach, it is the role of middle managers (Toyota calls these people "group leaders:) to develop the team leaders in at least 5 ways.  

1. First, a spirit of optimism. Leaders at any level cannot be down, disgruntled or pessimistic ever. No matter how dire circumstances may seem, your team needs to believe that working together, we will prevail. If the leaders don't believe this to their core, the team will not either. This sounds obvious, but it needs to be coached over and over.
2. Consistency. People need to see their coaches "at GEMBA" constantly. The company cannot improve if the "foreman" are managing computers in their office. They need to be where the work is. They need to be seizing opportunities to help people improve their own work. Coaches also need to be consistent in their demeanor. As a college football official, I have had the opportunity to observe thousands of football coaches over the past almost 30 years. The best teams have coaches whose emotions are very consistent. The worst teams have coaches whose behavior is erratic. One of my favorite benefits of my lean journey was an almost total elimination of chaos and firefighting.    
3. Respectful. Work with your coaches to answer questions WITH questions. Keep in mind that someone who has been working at something successfully every single day for years is probably an expert in what they do. Sometimes the best question to ask is "what do YOU think we should do?" Teach your coaches to listen aggressively. This is a hard skill to master. Have you ever caught yourself thinking about what you wanted to say next instead of really listening?
4. Challenging. This is also part of showing respect. People will never fail to amaze you when objectives are clearly communicated and visibly measured. People want to get caught doing what they think is important to their boss. Challenging people demonstrates respect-it sometimes demonstrates that YOU have more faith in them than they have in themselves. Set goals and do everything in your power to remove obstacles so they can achieve them. 
5. Servitude. Coach your coaches to understand that the only value added work of management is to continuously develop people. After all, the people doing the actual work are the only ones transforming your product or service into something your customers will pay for. Managers need to think of their employees as their customers. Having said that, remember that if the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught. If there are mistakes made, it is because we didn't train them well enough, not because they are stupid or don't care. Good coaches believe that the right process will produce the right result, and do not defend lousy processes simply because it is how "we've always done it".

If you are one of the growing list of companies who do dozens of A3s per year vs. occasional kaizan events, your bosses will transform to coaches exponentially more quickly, because they will have so many more opportunities to learn be doing. Just make sure you spend some time every day coaching them!

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