Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lean 101: You Can't Ignore the CEO

CEO Bill Belichick
Let's face it, it is so easy to ignore the consultant, but it is almost impossible to ignore the boss. 

If your business strategy is lean, every single human has a role. Team members who do the value added work (the work the customer will pay for) are responsible for doing and improving their jobs. The role of team leaders and group leaders is to develop team members into team leaders and group leaders, and help them see and make improvements. (Toyota says they build leaders, then cars) Finally, the role of top management is simple. DEMONSTRATE that lean is important. 

All people want to know is what is important to their leaders, and they want to get caught doing it.  If looking busy is important, people will look busy. If lots of documentation is important, get ready for an avalanche of non-value added sign-offs and double checks. If ham sandwiches on Tuesday are important, people will make sure they are eating ham sandwiches when the boss comes through.

DEMONSTRATING lean is important is much different than pontificating that lean is important.  Now, having spent over 20 years on the Senior Leadership Team, I understand how, if you're not careful, the business runs YOU instead of the other way around. This is where the concept of Standard Work comes in. The standard work of leadership is to demonstrate lean is important by going to the GEMBA, the place where the work is, and ask questions. Regularly. If you really want to find out what the problems are, all you need to do is ask the people who do the work. If you only show up once in a  while, they probably will be a little shy about telling you something you don't want to hear. If you show up regularly, they'll talk. 

OK, so part of your standard work is to spend some amount of time every week at GEMBA, asking questions. What questions? Here is a starter set of things to consider.

1. "If you owned the company what is the first thing you would change right now?" Prepare yourself for an answer that will not be self serving. It will be something that slows them down, makes them wait, or something they perceive as a waste of money. All you have to do is listen.
2.  "I was looking at the A3 board, and I see that you are leading an improvement. Would you show me what you are doing?" They key is to ask a team member to show you, not tell you. Now, I do this for a living, and I've asked this question thousands of times. People who work in companies that drive small, incremental, continuous improvements using temporary, self-directed work teams (A3)are very anxious, proud and willing to show you what they are doing. If you don't ask, they assume you don't care. If they don't think you care, they will assume busy is more important. Please remember that all we ask of A3 teams is to spend 20 minutes every day ON vs. IN the business. 
3. "Thank you so much for that!!!" Many companies "close" their A3s on the same day and time every week. All the boss has to do is show up then and listen as people teach their peers what they've learned. Listen as their peers ask questions, and then applaud along with everyone else. Then go thank them. I promise it won't be forced gratitude. I remember hugging team members because they made improvements in their work that I could never even dream of. Waste that may have survived for decades was gone forever. 

Just imagine an NFL coaching staff that doesn't work to make improvements on the practice field. Instead, they stay in the office, or sit in meetings. The people who do the value added work (the work people will pay for), the players, are left to "figure it out" for themselves. Then, after they got their clocks cleaned on Sunday, the coaches get a report full of stats each week. NFL teams are billion dollar businesses, and their managers (the coaches) LIVE at GEMBA! Including the CEO, the Head Coach.

And you just can't ignore a strongly motivated, hands-on CEO.


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