The CEOs I know that have visible success with lean don’t see lean as something you do when you finally get around to it. They see lean as their strategy.
There is an interesting Ohno comment about visiting the gemba doing more harm than good is work standards are not visible. Certainly, one of the main risks of managing by walking around is focusing on what people are doing right there and then and… doing their job for them. This is a crucial aspect of leadership every army knows about (and trains for): don’t manage down, don’t do the work of your direct reports because it’s easier than doing you own. In times of crisis, particularly, the temptation to take over subbordinates’ jobs can be very strong – but how can this end well?
On the gemba, lean leaders look for kaizen. They assume people do their day-to-day job well – if not, well, we’ve got deeper trouble than we think. But the core contribution of lean is to redefine jobs in terms of :
JOB = WORK + KAIZEN
By looking at the kaizen efforts, the CEO can immediately gauge people’s involvement as well as technicality. Kaizen creates a space for discussion about deeper issues without the day-to-day pressure of the business, and very often what occurs during kaizen activities highlights other difficulties about competences for the day-to-day job.
The question then is how, as a CEO can you NOT have time for kaizen? What do you actually spend your time on? Kaizen is the place where your people learn and as you study their countermeasures, you learn.