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Preparing for the inevitable change in leadership

By , - Last updated: Sunday, November 6, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Until someone finds the Fountain of Youth, leadership changes in organizations are inevitable. Large corporations and small family-owned businesses all have to deal with it. But sometimes they appear to occur at the wrong time. Just as your lean journey appears to have some momentum, all of a sudden the leadership changes.

The leadership change might be at a plant level, an executive level, or the CEO themselves. In any of these cases, leadership changes can cause shifts to our momentum.

But we’re caught by surprised. And anytime that we’re caught unprepared for something that is inevitable, we have only ourselves to blame.

So how do we prepare for this inevitable leadership change:

1. Develop at all levels of the organization. The mostly likely place where new leaders come from is from inside the organization. But this can’t happen if you don’t have the talent you need. If you are develop future leaders, then when they are ready to step in, they are already lean thinkers. We are starting to see more and more of this in more mature lean journeys. Current executives started their careers with the company since the lean journey began, and to some degree, this is all they know. I would believe that in many situations, developing future leaders can be a better return on investment than developing the current ones.

2. Don’t stop or stall. This is where we shoot ourselves in the foot most often. A new leader is announced, or there is a vacancy, and all forward momentum and lean activities stop. Why? Because we’re waiting to find out if the new leader will approve. Shame on us for not continuing to lead. Would the new leader actually be AGAINST continuous improvement? They might not be the ideal lean leader, but I doubt you’re going to get fired for trying to improve. Instead of waiting for positive confirmation from the new leader, keep moving until you get confirmation to stop or change directions.

3. Have an on-boarding plan. Are you waiting for the new leaders to come and visit you? Are you waiting them to be spontaneously inspired? Get them their. Have a plan of what activities, conversations, and questions you have for them as they get on-board to understand the lean journey. I hear from lean leaders “the execs aren’t doing the right things to lead.” When I talk to those same executives, they are surprised. No one told them, taught them, or coached them on what they needed to do.

4. Engage HR early. For anything except the CEO, and sometimes even this role, HR can have a significant impact on how we hire and who we hire. They don’t make the final decision, but often help shape the discussion, criteria, and process. The more HR understands lean, the more they will naturally hire people that will help you maintain your momentum. We were working with an executive team quite a while ago, and they needed to hire a new VP of Operations. The CEO asked “what do we do if the new VP doesn’t support lean.” Of course, the answer was “don’t hire that person.” It’s easy to say, but HR can impact the execution of that thought.

5. Engage the board of directors. The first responsibility of a board of directors is hiring and firing the CEO. A key piece of this is succession planning, making sure that the company is building future leaders, and understanding what we’re looking for in making the next selection. The more that the board of directors understands the lean journey that the company is going on, and how important maintaining momentum will be, then this will factor into their decision making.

None of this guarantees success, but I don’t believe anything will. Instead of waiting for the inevitable and then trying to react, let’s get ahead of the inevitable and be proactive.

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