One of the most important aspects of a successful lean journey is leadership. Lean brings powerful changes to each and every organization the strategy is implemented into. Any Lean practitioner who has seen a few projects or benchmarked various organizations has most likely witnessed a unique culture that somehow just happens naturally in lean companies. For this reason leadership often times takes on a more servant style of leading, afterall they exist to help the people they serve succeed.
Here are a few important concepts that will help leaders keep moving forward.
1. Pareto Leaders- As a leader you may start off in an improvement project, in fact you probably should. Experiencing kaizen and improvement events first hand will help you understand what happens in the events and experience first hand the spirit of kaizen. In many organizations as much as 80% of Kaizen is driven by those who are closest to the work. Finding out where those 80% of improvements are coming from can give you insight regarding the areas your mentorship is needed in. As a leader application of the pareto principle can also help you identify:
2. Genchi Genbutsu- Many years ago "the Gallow" would drop and everyone in the company knew that leadership had made a directive. We have all seen it and felt it, but in today's day and age the "dictator" approach doesn't yield such great results. Today Leaders are responsible for developing, training, discovering and mentoring future leaders. This most often times involves "Leader Standard work" and frequent Gemba walks where you can "Go and See" (Genchi Genbutsu).
- Often times employees are considered resources amongst machines and equipment. This sort of mindset will certainly place your lean journey at a stand still if your employees are just "resources." As a leaders one of the most important things you can do for your organization is empower others. Those people should feel empowered and prepared for success and if they stumble they should know exactly who to look to for mentoring and guidance.
- Training, Training, Training. Did we mention training? One of the most important aspects of developing the organization is developing the people who work their. Like any "Sports Team" every individual must be prepared to carry and support their weight. For this reason helping individuals develop their skills will certainly press your strategies forward. Establishing a standard onboarding process which includes basic training like learning foundational concepts of a lean strategy can help ensure all employees start of on similar ground. Even if employees are at advanced levels, we can all agree, review still helps.
- Building a solid foundation for any strategy is quite the task and as a leader it should be a top priority. One common mistake is passing the orders down from the top and interpreting value as the amount of direct labor your projects absorb. This is known as the underutilization of skills or more commonly the eighth form of waste. You need to build a solid support system amongst team members. Part of this process is creating a culture where people are confident that they are part of decisions being made. It will not happen overnight. Some things you can do to support your teams and people are:
3. Lead by example - Above all else lead by example. For many employees leadership is someone they look up to. Whether you carry the title of owner, C-level director or front line we all have different levels of "leadership" we are responsible. Setting a good example for those that follow is a sure fire way to influence others in a positive way.
There will be many different things that you can do for your organizations as the year progresses, but if there is one key element to driving effective change, it's the way we Lead, Support and develop one another. Effective Change agents whether in manufacturing or service commonly spring from a culture and leadership that supports the people not just the projects.
**What concepts, ideals, examples or behaviors do you appreciate most in a leader?
This guy is perfect! Kind, team player, technical skills and desire to grow in the organization. It's like a dream come true finding this type of employee. Then the final interview question is presented, "how do you feel about lean six sigma?" They respond, "I've only heard of it." With the ever growing "popularity" of both lean and six sigma it almost feels like a game changer if a new employee or existing individual has not sought out lean six sigma education or joined a group to become more familiar with these two powerful strategies. Then of course there is the "gap." Yes the gap, it's that ever increasing distance between those with "master black belts" and lean six sigma expertise and those who "missed the boat" for training or were part of "next years group." How do we bring those individuals up to speed so that the changing dynamics of an organization or job market of a career does not continue to drift further and further apart?
The answer to that question has remained the same for hundreds if not thousands of years; education, training and experience.
It's no secret that education for employees or learning for yourself yields: improved performance, consistent knowledge and a specialized skill set. But along with these benefits education can influence a group of behaviors in a positive way too. Imagine for a second an individual who had absolutely no understanding of soccer (I know it's hard to imagine) going with you to a soccer game. While fans are cheering, eating good food and actively engaged in the game, they just sit there with absolutely no connection with the game or anything going on around them. Worse yet they may feel left out and never want to be a part of a soccer game again. A tragedy indeed. Now let's imagine that for a few minutes, maybe an hour before you share with them important moments in the sport of soccer's history, you briefly explain to them the rules of soccer and you help them understand the general strategy of the game. Flashback to our soccer game and this time when everyone is cheering, screaming and excited they understand a few things. Soon they begin asking you more questions and shortly thereafter they want more knowledge. Similar to this most employees and individuals may feel discouraged in environments where they don't understand what is going on around them. Whether it's technical or philosophical it is hard to be a part of something you haven't ever heard about. Why would anyone see the value in eliminating waste when they could crank the machine up and sweat themselves to death creating more value? How would anybody understand the difference between creating value and non-value? They can't unless they have some knowledge or education where they can then begin to wrap their minds around the concept. In our recent release of the brand new completely remade 8 forms of waste course students first participate in an educational experience learning about general aspects of lean, waste and then moving on to the specifics of waste. Like a soccer game the community is now completely open to posting in each of the 15 lectures. This gives students an opportunity to discuss with one another the knowledge they are acquiring. Additionally they gain a firm understanding of fundamental lean concepts helping them to join or be a part of groups, strategies and initiatives that will surely cross their path sooner or later.
Educate someone on the strategy or direction of the organization and they are off to a good start. Now instead of "I've only heard of it," we might hear, "oh yeah, I was lucky enough to take a class on that." Place the individual in a community with others and now they can discuss, share thoughts and learn from others. Add a little training to their already educated mind and talking transforms into doing. That was the focus of the transformed 8 forms of waste course giving people the opportunity to take education and engage themselves or employees within an organization in activities that provide a real training experience. The benefit to this of course is that everyone knows what is going on around them and nobody "misses the boat."
With education and training under one's belt the last piece of the puzzle is experience. As the saying goes "if you don't use it, you'll lose it," the same is true for education and training. If all you do is sit through a course and complete a few reports then after obtaining your prized certification you set aside your new found knowledge you will surely forget what it is you've learned. Like kaizen a good way to continue developing skills in a field or closing gaps between expertise and novice is to practice everyday. whether it's a large scaled project or touching up on a recently read book try to stay engaged so that you don't have to start the process all over again.
There are many ways to onboard new employees and close gaps in the skill sets of current individuals. Whether it's a 2 hour course like the newly released 8 forms of waste course or a training program like the introduction to lean finding an effective and affordable way to welcome new faces to your organization and graft them into the field comfortably will empower and enable employees to be a part of your improvement journey and may possibly set them up as a future leader.