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Tracey Richardson

Tracey Richardson: Let’s first figure out what we’re trying to do

By Tracey Richardson, - Last updated: Monday, August 5, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

When I see or hear this question, I pause and attempt to grasp the situation of what does a “major lean” transformation mean to an executive or the “process owner” of the lean journey. By answering this question it helps me understand their own ability to grasp the magnitude of what they are attempting and their role in it. Not many stop to ask this question and assumptions are made. When I’m at various organizations or conference sessions I think one of the commonalities among these folks is asking – How do I get my leadership onboard? They also ask- Will my Lean contributions be successful to the overall goals if my leaders aren’t bought in to the process? These repetitive questions tell me a lot about the current state of many organizations and their attempts at change and who’s changing it. This is a very good question, one that many in the Lean community can benefit from based on all our experiences.

I think when I hear the word leader it defaults me to “servant leadership”, based on what my Japanese trainers taught me. In the past traditional leadership is about “people work for me”, in a Lean management system it means ” I work for my people”, this is a paradigm shift in thinking for some people and their leadership styles within the organization. I think the first step for higher level leadership who are responsible for changing the way an organization does business begins by developing this action which leads to a habit. I believe the most simplistic way of starting this habit is to ask – where is this organization in regard to where we want to be? This can be in the context of the key performance business indicators (KPI), in regard to the customer value stream, the processes / standard work that deliver the outputs/services, our ability to develop people, and our mechanism to see abnormality. These are avenues to grasp the situation and understand the causes, barriers and constraints that are preventing an organization from getting there.

I also think its key for higher level leaders to understand- what are we actually measuring? So many organizations I talk to tend to be tipping towards the result side of measures, I tend refer to this as “leading and lagging” measures or (process and results). If we measure the majority of lagging indicators it hinders us, or even to some extent, masks the true current state or our ability to see it. For example, I will use the airlines as a way to explain where you can choose to measure as an organization. Most airlines I’ve experienced measure “on time” as when they leave the jet-way. Most customers may see that measure a bit differently. Just because I leave the jet-way on-time doesn’t necessarily mean I will be on-time to my destination. What are the processes in between that are more leading and can be more predictive to the customer need enabling us to make modify work, as well as the things that are controllable to reduce waste on a leading side. If we are being a more predictive organization this can be an important factor to enhancing our Lean management system. If I track Safety incidents, that’s a lagging historical indicator; its good I track it, but its better I find a leading process indicator to prevent the lagging. I think many executives aren’t at a 5000 to 500 foot level in the organization to understand this concept and tend to overlook the importance of measurements and how they cascade downward to the daily work.

If I am a true lean leader and lead as an executive then I must play a heavy support role in understanding what and how are we measuring against the customer need and how am I looking at processes that are as value-added as possible to the value stream. I often suggest to folks that are balancing the scales of the leading and lagging indicators that it is an important discussion to have and understand – “how are we doing>> and how do we know? This is also important how we cascade this thinking throughout all levels of the organization (50000 foot to 500) otherwise known as Strategy deployment. I don’t think its realistic for executives to spend all their time on the floor (the go see), but I do feel they need to have a “finger on the pulse” as to current state versus ideal through their management team and people who are doing the work. So I do think there is a percentage of time necessary to grasp this and be a presence out there building mutual trust and respect within the organization. So I think it’s fair to expect our CEO’s, Presidents, Vice Presidents and so on to be that servant leader we discussed above, they must attempt daily to play a support role by enabling the front lines and their management levels to have the resources necessary to deal with abnormality against a standard. They must support the organization by having the ability to see through the same lens when it comes to Problem Solving (PDCA), speak the language and overall be seen as someone that isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty and empower people to believe they are capable of doing extraordinary things. Development and empowerment of people can determine the rise and fall of an organization. I believe this is the beginning of how you create an infrastructure of the culture necessary to have long-term growth and sustainability. So what’s in it for me should be clear and concise, because an organization that engages, involves, challenges and empowers people at all levels to always think about where we are and were we want to be at all levels can be a contagious feeling. One I experienced first-hand and consider “price-less”. It can be done it’s all about the discipline and accountability for doing it. As I’ve hear Jim Womack say – Lean is not always about what to “do”, its about “doing” it. You jump that hurdle- you are well ahead of the game.
@thetoyotagal
Tracey Richardson

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