Three ways to support changes in the workplace

Improving a business requires leadership supporting employees at the Gemba (the real place/where value is added) in a very respectful manner by coaching them on the continuous transformation journey. This approach shone brightly when a senior staff member at a horticulture client reflected after a KAIZEN™ coaching session:

“What I like about KAIZEN™ is that it’s not just a lot of hot air as in training. The business owner is with us at the coal face and coaching us to make a real difference. I have seen in the past that people get all excited about training and then the team is left hanging in the wind to dry. No wonder many people are against changes in the workplace.”

So, what is the leadership mind-set and behaviour behind this comment?

Short-term vs long-term
This man’s comments stemmed from the explicit conviction of senior management that KAIZEN™ is their way to become an excellent business. This implies commitment and perseverance to continuously identify inefficiencies, to eradicate it, to standardise the better way, then to check if these standards are being followed, and to constantly find even better ways of working. For the owners of this business, Lean isn’t just another way of quickly saving money and then to find the next “cost-reduction tool”. There is no turning back; there is no alternative than to continuously make the business better.

This business strive towards what Akio Toyoda, current CEO and President of Toyota Motor Corporation, said in an interview in November 2013: ”…kaizen, or continuous improvement. You never reach a final stage. The key is making tomorrow better than today. After the KAIZEN™ is also before the kaizen; when one improvement is finished, it is the beginning of the next improvement.”

You can’t force people into Lean
You can’t “do Lean to” people or teams. It is truly about showing respect for people and their processes and to lead them into a pathway of personal improvement while they are improving their processes. When senior managers/business owners coach and lead their people in a KAIZEN™ way, they will build trust, and foster a willingness among people to be transparent about their problems and errors, even if it might cause temporary tension. This foundation of trust can lead to stronger commitment, improved accountability, and better results for the organisation. To respectfully engage people to apply Lean thinking and Lean behaving is a vital Lean leadership skill.

Transforming an organisation to be more efficient can’t be left to consultants, team leaders, or some frontline staff. It must be everybody (and this includes senior leaders and business owners), everywhere (in each team, each plant, every process, all filing cabinets, each data storage system), every day (yip, basically every moment). Leaders must lead Lean; not push it (down people’s throats….)

With your people
The management of an organisation must happen mainly at the Gemba with the people – minimise the time in board rooms and often endless, wasteful meetings. KAIZEN™ happens when a business owner or manager experiences the frustrations and embarrassments of inefficiencies with employees, but also shares in the satisfaction of success. A KAIZEN™ leader is sometimes in the mud & oil, evaluates documents with admin, hears the noise of the shop floor, reflects in front of visual boards, digs for data on the server, searches for solutions with a team while analysing a value stream...

It is inspiring to see hands-on business owners and managers applying KAIZEN™ at the Gemba. It is heartening to hear that staff members recognise this support from their leaders and that they value working alongside them (on the shop floor) in their efforts to transform the business.

Can you think of other underlying Lean leadership qualities that can lead to comments like this?

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