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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Strong coaches are there to develop internal leaders and coaches

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Sunday, November 9, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Building on what Tracey said, think of the process of getting to be in a TPS promotion role at Toyota as a funnel with many people applying, a smaller number selected to join the company, and then a winnowing based on performance inside Toyota. People are coached and also watched carefully to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They are given opportunities to build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses and some do that better then others. Some people have the ability to do a technical job really well, but may lack leadership skills. Others can lead within the hierarchy, but are not effective as trainers and change agents.

The real point is that Toyota generally does not hire outside people who have formal lean credentials. They grow their own and through intensive development and assessment over years at the gemba people move through different pathways. The change agent role should require very special skills as you need to have the respect of managers, who are themselves very strong, and also you must have exceptional people skills from listening, to consensus building, to inspiring, to seeing potential, and helping others exploit their potential. The accountability for meeting challenging objectives are primarily in the line organization—the management hierarchy—and they are expected to lead and develop people to improve and meet the targets. The specialist change agents are teaching and facilitating and may bring specific technical expertise to support the managers and group leaders and team members.

In the typical company outside Toyota that has a KPO office it is quite different. “Lean” is not in the culture and people have been selected and promoted for a large variety of reasons. Often the KPO office is staffed with young, bright college graduates who learn quickly, from an academic viewpoint,and are good with numbers and reports. This is a very different skill set then the Toyota change agent that Tracey describes. Often the KPI specialists end up being responsible for lean transformation, from the side, from the staff function. The result is that the doers and their managers do not learn deeply or get a passion for improvement. They are in relatively passive roles. Then we see that “lean is not sustained.” The results are a product of the process.

I do know excellent lean coaches and facilitators who have the characteristics that Tracey describes, often because they worked in these roles in Toyota as Tracey did. They can have very powerful positive effects on developing people in the non-Toyota culture and in changing mindsets. When there are strong coaches their role should be to develop internal lean leaders and coaches. The people who resonate with strong teachers and develop the right skills are not always those with the strongest academic credentials. We have seen in many cases a skilled trades specialist, an hourly team member, a supervisor who get the passion for lean and have all the right personal attributes to be strong change agents. We have also seen cases where these strong candidates get passed over for the KPO positions because they lack the formal educational credentials—really sad!

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