“Please do not mention the word ‘lean’.”
“For two years, we worked on it very hard and gave it up because of the lack of results”, is a frequent reply.
Sadly it isn’t unheard of for companies to spent a lot of money on training and invest in additional people to drive the change and develop knowledge. And of course, it also absorbs everybody’s time in the process. They end up getting almost no results, and giving it up.
Admittedly, my description earlier is a little extreme, but unfortunately not all that rare. There are many more less extreme cases in which lean has achieved something, but only something, and not the big change that was promised. So what goes wrong?
Most lean practitioners often focus far too much on the mechanics, and pay too little attention to the people and the overall context in which lean is being applied. Although equipped with ambitious goals, leaders still get caught in the improvement trap. They fire-fight problems, prescribing solutions to employees and micromanaging in a traditional management style.
People-focus is at the core of lean leadership. Lean builds on people’s ideas. It is not about telling your employees how to do things better, but about supporting them to develop better ways of doing things. Actively supporting means giving people the time and knowledge to develop solutions with your active, visible and personal support. If things do not work out the first time, persist until they do. When they do, recognise the achievement.
Not being the one to provide the answer is perhaps the biggest challenge for most leaders. After all, their promotions were probably based on being seen to have all the answers. What is required is a shift in mindset from providing answers to facilitating the process by which others discover solutions. By asking the right questions, lean leaders get more out of their organisations. For example:
- What is the true root cause of the problem?
- What are your ideas for solutions and how will you narrow them down?
- What do you need to implement this solution?
- What is keeping you from doing it?
- How will we know “good” when we see it?
Acting as role models of lean, leadership establish new habits and norms, which is key to not only achieving, but also sustaining new levels of performance. Team members will mirror your actions, so think about how you can be the example of how you want others to behave.
by Gavin Jones, New Potential