By Philip Holt, Head of Partnership Development, Accounting Operations at Philips
Jeffrey Liker provided real insight into Lean Leadership in his book, the Toyota Way, in 2003. This followed the insights into the Toyota Production System, or Toyota Way, that Womack and Jones introduced to us in the 1990s.
Nevertheless, despite much being written about this subject and many companies deploying lean, this critical “Magic Ingredient” still evades most organizations.
To use lean thinking, let’s ask why five times.
The 5 Whys
Jeffery Liker, in his article in the Lean Management Journal (Developing Leaders at Toyota) provides a 5 Why assessment of why most leaders are not lean thinkers and comes up with a conclusion:
- Why? Because they lack the discipline and focus
- Why? Because they do not see what is in it for them to do this new and extra work
- Why? Because they do not really understand where these specific changes are headed and what they can do for them and the company
- Why? Because they have not learned deeply enough to believe in all this lean stuff
- Why? Because nobody they respect and trust has been teaching and coaching them as they have gone through the change
Unwilling To Understand
I have observed this phenomenon in a number of lean transformations, as Leaders espouse lean and desire the results that they believe it can bring.
Unfortunately, they are unable (or unwilling) to understand what that means for them and to make the changes necessary in their behavior to enable the lean transformation.
“Leadership is weak, uncommitted to lean thinking, and lacks skill and deep understanding. A dramatic change must take place to support and sustain a lean transformation that starts with a diligent and disciplined focus on self development.”
– Jeffery Liker
Lean Leadership must be central to the lean transformation and we need to have the courage to stop the transformation if leadership is not playing their part. In particular, leadership must define the “Burning Platform” for change, help run Kaizen Blitz Events, and go to the Gemba to perform Problem Solving, Coaching, and Standard Work.
The approach that we use for deployment must include these elements as central and fundamental to success.
Lean as The Business Strategy
Coaching and the development of the leadership team needs to be undertaken by people whom they can trust and respect; not only for their understanding of the lean tools but for their holistic understanding of lean thinking and how this integrates with the business strategy.
Only when the leadership team can see lean thinking as an integral part of their business strategy, and not simply an improvement initiative, will they fully grasp the necessity for personal change.
My advice is to take some time and reflect on whether your lean transformation has this critical success factor embedded and whether you’ve given yourself the chance to succeed.
About Philip Holt
Philip is a lean leader with over 25 years of experience and a track record of lean transformation within a global blue chip organization. He enjoys sharing and discussing his experiences with others in the lean transformation world.