Lean Leadership

Lean leadership is all about commitment: commitment to your employees, commitment to the system and commitment to making changes towards improvement. A lean environment requires leaders to excel at both verbal and listening skills in order to understand the problems that their people are facing. Their problems eventually become your problems, and a better understanding of their problems will make it easier to identify where waste is being created and allow you to make the necessary changes to reduce or eliminate it. Lean is all about eliminating waste through continuous improvement, and the most valuable resource a leader has available to understand where the waste is coming from is through the people that see it every day. Lean leadership is geared more towards working with your people rather than your people working for you.

Commitment To Your Employees

The highest commitment in Lean Leadership has to be towards your employees; your people. In any company, the people working for it are it's greatest asset. You need to listen to your people and ensure they have the right tools and knowledge to perform their jobs correctly. When suggestions are made by your people, be attentive. Don't shrug off their suggestions. If it's not feasible, tell them why and suggest alternative methods for them to consider. They may come back with something even better than their first idea.

Your people are dealing with the issues every day and they have great ideas on how to solve some of your problems. I have seen many big improvements implemented through the idea of a person working on the production floor. Many of them are just waiting for someone to listen. Don't assume that their ideas are any less valuable than yours because you hold a supervisory position. This is one of the more common mistakes that new leaders make. Everyone's role is equally as important, some just carry more responsibility.

Another way that you need to be committed to your people is when they make a mistake. I consider the following questions when issues occur as a result of operator error;

1. Did the person follow the procedure?

2. If the person did not follow the procedure, did they purposely by-pass mistake proofing?

3. Is the system/mistake-proofing sufficient?

There are other questions I consider but these are the main ones.

If a person is following a procedure and an error occurs, the procedure is incapable of preventing errors and must be corrected. If a person makes an honest mistake and misses an operation, the person needs to be given the benfit of the doubt and assume it won't happen again. Retraining or a discussion with the person on the importance of following the system will most likely rectify this type of behaviour. If a person deliberately turned off mistake-proofing devices and made an error, they must be dealt with accordingly. As part of lean manufacturing, quality must be built into the process and this is accomplished with mistake-proofing devices.

Lean leadership requires you to work with your people but maintain your position of authority. This does not require you to rule with an iron fist but you must ensure work sequences and procedures are followed at all times. By doing this you make it easier for your people to know what you expect of them, and they of you.

Commitment To The System

The next area that requires your commitment as a leader in a lean environment is the system. As most people are resistant to change by nature, they may have a difficult time understaning some of the elements that you are implementing. I've seen a high level of resistance to implementation of standardized routes and levelized production.

In order to convince yoour people that the company is headed in the right direction, you need to have a thorough understanding of Lean Manufacturing. You need to be fully aware of how the changes you will be making, and asking your people to make, will help to improve your company. The people reporting to you will bring forth every reason why they think it won't work. You need to stick with the plan and convince them that it is in their best interest to try it out. Based on my experience, once the floor associates get to know the system, they will ask why it wasn't implemented sooner. Remember, the idea of lean is to work smarter, not harder.

Commitment To Improvement

The last consideration I will review as part of lean leadership is commitment to improvement. One of the major principles of lean manufactuirng is continuous improvement. During the implementation phases of lean, your company will go through many changes. Once these changes start taking place, you will need to continue to improve upon the system as it is being implemented.

Most aspects of your lean implementation will have to evolve. The chances of getting the system exactly the way you intended it at the start will be very slim. Lean leadership requires you to remain committed to pushing forward even in the face of adversity. When your people start to lose interest or start doubting the system, you need to stay the course and offer them a glimpse of the bigger picture. Continue to make improvements but do not neglect to get their feedback and suggestions.

Some of the feedback will be very valuable and some of the people that want to see the system work will have positive suggestions. You can even learn from some of the negative suggestions of the people using the system. By continually improving upon the criticisms, you will ensure the system becomes user friendly for even the biggest nay-sayers.

There are many other aspects of lean leadership that need to be considered. Look for more information about this in the future on this website.