Lean and Leadership – the perfect couple

You will already have read my thoughts on the difference between Leadership and Management in an earlier post, and maybe you’ll know that I’m a fan of Lean approaches in business.  So, why did many of my former colleagues have a really bad experience with Lean?

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perhaps the answer was because the approach did not combine Lean with Leadership, but used Lean and Management; that in my book is a recipe for disaster.  Lean and Lean Sigma improvement activities are not likely to be successful or enjoyable if they are ‘imposed’ by management.

“Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”

This would be a good approach to implementing Lean Sigma as a business improvement technique in a business!  Show the strength of your Leadership and start to train everyone in your business aspects of business improvement techniques.

The workers need to be shown that they are allowed to make improvements to what they do on a daily basis.  They know what they do, and how wasteful it can be.

The front-line managers, the team leaders need to know how to assess what processes their teams do, and how they could potentially improve the processes.  It may be that they need to have to tools to map the processes, to have the language to describe what is waste and what is not.

The management need to know what, from a high-level perspective, the business processes actually do.   It is critical to have this view of the whole business (the value stream in Lean jargon) so that they can allow others to carry out the right business improvement activities at the right time.

I’ve written these three paragraphs specifically in that order, because I believe that if you want to achieve staff engagement during and after business change, then it is critical that the staff themselves are at the centre of the change program.  I’m not suggesting that everyone should be allowed to change everything; it is the management’s responsibly to ensure that any change activities are coordinated and resourced appropriately, and that they are actually addressing the needs of the business.

All of this can only work properly if there is openness and honesty across the business.  If there isn’t, then the environment and culture within the business needs to change.  That may be a topic for another day!