Leading Lean: Fix My Manager, Please!
I want to share an e-mail I received recently from a lean-savvy individual who was hired by a company to lead its lean transformation efforts. It quickly became clear to him that the company's executives were not committed enough to take the necessary leadership actions. Disappointed, he met with the president of a smaller company. The smaller company's president was emphatic about his commitment to making lean a success, so this lean change agent decided to change companies.
Now in a position to make a difference, he found that his situation did not change much. This new company wouldn't take the necessary actions he was recommending, and he concluded that the company president's so-called commitment to lean was a lot more talk than action. After all this frustration, his question to me was: How do I find out before I join a company whether it is truly committed to lean transformation?
This individual's predicament is not all that unusual. There are many lean champions out there who can't seem to get their boss or other senior executives on board with lean. Nonetheless, your job is to get these executives ready to lead lean. That is the important, albeit hard, work. So what should you do when the boss isn't demonstrating the needed commitment?
Step 1: Get over your fear. There is a belief that if you push your boss, you might get fired. I challenge this belief on two counts. First, I have seen people fired for incompetence or huge mistakes, but I've never seen someone fired for a genuine effort to improve the company. Second, if you are a strong lean leader, there are plenty of companies that would be glad to hire you, so what's the real risk if you do get fired? I believe there is a much greater personal risk in doing nothing and living with continued frustration in an organization that is going nowhere.
Step 2: Understand how minds change. Everyone changes his or her mind through different means. Observe the person whose mind you want to change, and learn what it takes to change that person's mind about something else. Some require the logical approach, a well-told story that leads to the new conclusion. Some need to hear the argument from a friend or peer whose opinion is trusted, and who has nothing to gain from the decision. Others need to see a different approach in practice before accepting it as real. Understand how your subjects make decisions, and then use that approach to get them hooked on lean transformation.
Step 3: Give up some power. Once you get senior management committed, you can inadvertently put up a roadblock that turns that commitment right around. When senior management gets truly engaged in the lean transformation, they will want to put their mark on how that transformation takes place. Their experiences, priorities and perspectives will shift how the work gets done. It might not be exactly how you envisioned it, but isn't this what you wanted? When the leadership gets engaged, don't fight it; embrace it and become an agent of change in an effort that is now larger than you. Any change that is really worthwhile will be more than just your vision and actions, even if you are really good.
Even if the whole organization appears to be working against you, there is always something you can do. If people stand between you and a successful lean journey, then your job is to engage and win the hearts and minds of those individuals. If you do this, progress will come. If it doesn't, despite your very best efforts, then perhaps it is time to find a new home.
Whether you agree or disagree, Jamie will welcome your comments. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.