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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Clarify goals, mentor people one-on-one, and then move people around if you have to

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, October 11, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

In the beginning it is quite normal for a person in a managerial position to be the main driver of Lean or any improvement program for that matter. In Toyota’s case Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno played large roles in building up the Toyota System. As time moves on however it is generally not possible for a single manager to continue to drive improvement. In a crisis or for a period of time top down change is feasible but in the long run it is often self defeating.

In Toyota’s case there was a lot of frustration in the 1950’s over the situation in manufacturing. Leaders like Taiichi Ohno had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and succeeded in converting manufacturing lines over to his ideal with tremendous improvements. Not everyone in the company “got it” however and supervision was not skilled at maintaining the gains that had been made let alone furthering the gains.

This problem is not unique among companies and is very normal in my opinion. In Toyota’s case a lot of hard work went into fixing this situation. Personnel were moved around in order to get the right people in the right positions. In some cases in the 1950’s during the starting period engineers were converted to supervisors when that was warranted. For the most part however a large amount of time was spent improving supervisory and managerial skill. The Training Within Industry courses for Job Instruction, Job Relations, and Job Methods were vital in this regard. Special training was conducted in how to improve as well in addition to these courses.

Taiichi Ohno himself committed large amounts of his time to developing people so that they would understand his vision. Importantly this was done on-the-job at the shop floor and not in a meeting room or in training. The best way to learn and teach is to give assignments, guide and coach, provide feedback, and jointly problem solve when necessary.

No everyone will succeed as driving improvement requires a certain skill set and aptitude. When necessary people need to be rotated or moved aside when they can perform in line with the goals of the improvement program. In this context however it is important that goals be explicitly clear and communicated to supervisors and managers. Some form of Policy Deployment or Houshin Kanri is often very helpful.

This process is difficult but in the end rewarding and will generate greater impact. Top managers have a finite amount of time on their hands and can only solve so many problems. Every organization has a seemingly infinite number of problems however some small, some medium, and some large. The key is to get the right level of the organization working on the right problems. Some skills development is required, some mentoring is necessary, and some movement of personnel often makes sense as well.

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