A Lean Workforce Starts with Lean Leadership
More and more companies are starting to realize the benefits of lean methodologies, and are trying to implement them in their own work. However, as they all inevitably quickly find out, lean is not a simple concept to tackle, and requires a lot of effort across all levels of the organization.
Above all, it requires serious efforts from the company’s leaders, and they often have to bear a heavy burden in the transition to lean practices. Thankfully, as long as everything is planned carefully and in a thoughtful manner, the implementation of lean methodologies can go through very smoothly and without issues that might derail the program.
Getting your leaders – and yourself – up to speed
The first step of the process should be aimed at the company’s leadership. The sooner everyone around the higher levels of the hierarchy is able to navigate the complex jungle of lean methodologies, the better. There are different ways to go about this, depending on the size of the company, but getting important leaders engaged in Lean events and Six Sigma projects is a proven approach.
The company can also hold coaching sessions between the leaders themselves, in which they can hone their teaching skills, and perfect their knowledge of lean practices. Everyone should be encouraged to share their experience at these sessions, and to challenge each other about things they are not that familiar with.
It is a good idea to do this in a rotation, that is, training some leaders at an accelerated rate, while allowing the others to perform their normal duties. That way, the company will be minimally impacted by the implementation of lean practices in its work.
The importance of measuring progress
You won’t really know if the organization is moving in the right direction unless you measure things in a precise manner. This is one of the most common mistakes made by leaders attempting to push their companies towards a lean work style. You may be working in the right direction without even realizing it, which is why it’s so important to ensure that every step of the process is documented along with its results.
This will also have the auxiliary effect of helping you identify problems with the organization in other places. In general, the more about the company’s efforts that’s measured and recorded, the faster it will be able to improve in the future.
However, if the focus of lean and six sigma is purely about metrics, then the initiative will skip over the culture and employee engagement efforts. If companies are just looking for short term success, their overall lean efforts will fail.
Question your leaders on their lean abilities
Even if your company’s leaders demonstrate adequate mastery of lean concepts initially, this is something that can fade away with time if those skills aren’t continuously honed. That’s why, for example, training and hands-on experience has to be repeated on a regular basis. You simply can’t trust that the organization is still in good shape if you’re not confident in the up-to-date skills of its leaders.
Even those who aren’t properly certified with a Six Sigma belt, or experienced leading lean events can still benefit from the occasional refresher sessions about specific skills relevant to their positions. Those sessions may even be organized within the company itself, with other leaders giving tips and sharing their experience in the field. External training classes and workshops can also allow leaders to network and learn from other companies. Facility tours are a popular event at most Lean and Six Sigma conferences.
In addition, employees should also be encouraged to report feedback about the company’s current leadership. If someone believes that their team leader is behind the current trends, or that they’re incorrectly handling a specific aspect of their job, they should be encouraged to speak up.
After all, an organization will never improve if its leaders are not provided constructive feedback by their own employees. Even though a good leader should be able to spot their own mistakes, their employees can always do that much more efficiently and regularly. Often leaders are surprised at how their efforts are interpreted by their employees, even when they are trying to do the right things.
Continuous assessment of the company’s leadership is key to a successful implementation of lean methodologies. As long as the higher-ups are on board with the current trends in the field, and know what they have to do to minimize waste and see continuous growth, this will propagate down to the lower levels, and keep the continuous improvement “machine” running smoothly.