For lean to be truly effective, it needs effective lean leadership to champion lean principles, offer guidance, and ensure that lean is being used to optimize the entire organizational system for value delivery. It requires a shift in mindset from that of a supervisor, to that of a teacher or coach. The most effective practitioners of lean leadership gently, by example, lead by ensuring that lean principles are being applied with the right goal in mind.
This is often easier said than done for some leaders. You know who they are. Micromanagers with hair-trigger tempers that run roughshod over employees in the name of productivity and results. They forget that the basic tenets of lean methodology are all about the employee or front line worker. Strength in lean depends on employees being empowered to act and be supported by lean leadership. The concepts of heavy-handed micromanagement and lean methodologies are just not compatible.
The role of lean leadership is that of a coach. Coaches align their teams around a common goal. They arm their teams with the tools for success, and encourage them to make smart decisions that will allow for sustainable, competitive growth. They give their employees more control over their work and over decisions about how work should be done, because they realize that the workforce is smarter than they are about the systems the team works on. Many enlightened organizations also find that, when empowered, the workforce can respond to situations more quickly. Empowering workers also means giving them the knowledge they need to take on the responsibility for decision-making.
Tips for Effective Lean Leadership
- Attend the Gemba – Be seen everyday and be involved. You cannot lead from your office. Spend time with employees everyday.
- Live the 5 Why’s – Understanding comes from asking why, not marking orders. Get down to the root cause and educate.
- Communication is the Key – Meet every day. It takes 10 minutes to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Think in Value Stream – See your organization from the eyes of the customer. Focus the team on meeting takt time and when that has been met, redeploy the labor somewhere else.
- Notice and Prioritize – Pay attention and visualize the operation. What you overlook or fail to identify, is what you accept. Employees respond to what you see as important.