Leading Lean Initiatives

by Charles Dagher

With all the brilliant minds that write books and coach manufacturing leaders, there is still a high rate of failure each day in the industry. I still hear managers and corporate leaders blame the workforce for poor performance. When I walk into a factory, that’s the first thing I hear. Now, to be clear, I am all about the company. But the factory is just an entity. The workforce is still made up of people

They have the same needs and wants as managers. I’ve had the opportunity to transform several businesses and it all starts with people (going to the Gemba, where the work is done). This doesn’t mean taking a monthly tour with your entourage - it means getting down on the floor and asking questions. Look at where you have safety and quality issues.

There’s probably a correlation between the safety and quality with cost and delivery. Hmmm, you say…. of course there is, we know that, why read any farther? Well, if you know you have these issues, and you’re not able to fix them, there’s a leadership problem. If you’re a leader, look at yourself. Although there have been several studies indicating leadership as a key factor in continuous improvement implementation success and that leaders may have a direct effect on their employees buy-in and involvement in implementing change, we still have a 70% implementation failure rate in the US. If you think everyone other than the guy in the mirror is an idiot, you’re dead wrong. People (employees) want to have accountability. But more than anything, they need to feel that you have their best interests at heart, meaning safety. Several decades ago Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs. Notice where safety is. In many businesses we have a problem: we think we can move around all the stuff that’s hard, and then when it fails we say, “well, that doesn’t work here, we’re different.” News flash, it works in businesses just like yours someplace else in the world, the difference is, the leadership. For instance, the traditional hierarchical structure of leadership in manufacturing keeps problem solving and implementation of process improvement initiatives at the management level. Autocratic management practices mean that leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from employees, which in turn means initiatives and decision-making are less creative and further removed from what is important to the employee. Most often, we hire people out of college or promote them from their jobs to be supervisors and we don’t train them. I often hear of companies afraid to send people through training because it raises the chances those people will leave.

However, if you don’t train them, what do you have? Think about the lack of leadership skills, problem solving expertise and experience, just to name a few. The cycle should be to train, coach, and mentor. In addition, if you take care of employees, they are less likely to leave (even if they are offered a little more money elsewhere).

The result of failing to train people to be better supervisors and managers causes a multitude of issues that lead to poor relationships and attitudes between the people doing the work and the supervisors. This further leads to poor production as well as high turnover. I recently had the opportunity to meet Ritsuo Shingo, son of Shigeo Shingo (creator of SMED and co-creator of the Toyota Production System). It was a very humbling experience. He truly is a leader. What’s makes a leader? Well, you’d follow them into anything knowing they have your back. Ritsuo gave several lessons on the Toyota Production System and leadership. Leaders are developed. I was so impressed, I asked Ritsuo to do a week long leadership workshop in July in Santorini, Greece, and he accepted (www.leantac.com for details). Not only is he a leader, he wants to share his experiences with others to better prepare the next generation of leaders to be successful.