One of the greatest challenges with embedding a Lean Culture in any organisation is getting the management culture right. The difference between managers in traditional organisations and leaders in Lean ones couldn’t be starker. It is often the part of any organisation’s transformation that is the most challenging. So what is a Lean Leader and what do they do so differently?
The role of a Lean Leader
The job of a Lean Leader is a supportive one. It is very unlike the traditional “command and control” management environment where managers tell staff what to do. A leader’s main purpose is to help the frontline identify and resolve issues, therefore driving continuous improvement.
There are five underpinning principles of Lean Leadership:
- Challenge the status quo – Challenging your staff and encouraging them to continuously look for better ways of doing things.
- Support continuous improvement – Once you have challenged your staff, you need to coach them through the problem-solving cycle. This includes the implementation of the solutions identified and updating of the team processes and work standards.
- Go and see – To facilitate a Lean Culture, you need to be visible and available for your staff. Don’t make decisions or solve problems from behind a desk, go out to where the work takes place and be a leader from there.
- Facilitate Teamwork – Teamwork is only ever effective when staff have a common purpose to work towards. Keep your staff focused on the bigger picture, their purpose and delivery of customer value. You should also encourage teamwork that is broader than your management silo.
- Respect the frontline – Respect your team member’s opinions and expertise. All staff need to have the ability and opportunity to challenge your decisions and thinking, without fear of reprisal.
What does this mean in practice?
You may need to start some new leadership habits and stop some old unhelpful ones!
For example, jumping in to support delivery when your team is struggling. Whilst often counterintuitive, this is normally done with the best intentions. However, it fixes a problem in the short term but can take you away from being able to take a more objective and constructive look at the problem being experienced. This means the root-cause of the problem goes unresolved and the problem, therefore, repeats itself.
If your favourite football team were losing their match what would the manager do? The answer isn’t to pull on their boots, run onto the pitch and try to score a goal. So why is it that when teams are struggling, managers jump in and deliver alongside them?
The alternative is for the Leader to align their team around a common goal and focus on supporting their team through problem-solving, coaching and motivating them to perform smarter. Whilst ensuring they have the skills, tools and knowledge to achieve the team’s goal.
Typical daily activities for a Lean Leader include:
- Being part of a 10 minute daily stand up meeting with your team(s) where performance, problems and improvements are discussed.
- Auditing and observing the team’s processes in action and providing staff with constructive challenge and feedback.
- Coaching and supporting team members through problem-solving activities.
- Auditing the 10-minute meetings, work standards, and workplace set up.
Whilst it may seem almost impossible to find time to fit these tasks in alongside your current management responsibilities, without them you will continue to spend time doing non-value adding tasks. For example, fixing problems and providing cover for staff shortages. The more time you carve out to do these things the more time you will have to do them in.
Reflection – How Lean are you?
We believe self-reflection and auditing to be key to anyone’s personal success. Below are a few key questions to answer and reflect on. They are extracts from our ‘How Lean am I’ assessment for leaders. Score yourself from 1-5 (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) and use your answers to create a personal action plan to become more Lean in your leadership style.
- My team(s) clearly understand their purpose (and could articulate it if asked).
- I have daily conversations with my team about performance and how to improve it.
- I coach my staff in how to identify root causes of issues and how to problem-solve them.
- I challenge any decisions which are not based on facts and data.
- I know the top 3 reasons for loss of productivity in my team(s).
- I conduct weekly Lean audits or process confirmation with staff.
- I encourage my team(s) to review and improve their documented processes and work standards regularly.
Becoming a Lean continuous improvement organisation requires significant effort from everyone. It takes a lot of time and effort. Sustaining the improvements made is just as hard as implementing them. Without the right management culture in place to ensure that work standards are adhered to and improved upon, and problems resolved, any efforts will ultimately be wasted.
Without a Leader to focus a team and guide them they can end up being a collection of brilliant individuals rather than a team pulling in the same direction towards a common goal. As Peter Drucker once famously said: “Management is doing things right, Leadership is doing the right things.”