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Systems Suppressing the Potential of your Lean Initiative?

Probably.  To overcome this obstacle, let's begin with a discussion of management’s role in a Continuous Improvement system? Most often when employees hear the term management it connotes a specific hierarchical assignment of jobs populated by persons with varying levels and spheres of influence. The term management is vague in that it sometimes refers only to an elite few persons at the top of the organization (executive management) and at other times middle managers and supervision as well. In both senses however, we are referring to the people who steer the ship. We can think of these persons either as the agents of change or as the  keepers of the “status quo” , depending upon their predispositions.

As a means by which managers manage, their process may include a vision and mission statement as well as corporate values, and also the strategy and organization which emanate from these. Policies are written to clearly define how the management system should operate. Together, these create the infrastructure and shared understanding that run the business, both daily and long-term.  Together they are the embodiment of the “status quo” .
The responsibility for revising these types of management systems clearly lies with executive management, but the task of implementing it must be shared across the management team at all levels.

When W. Edwards Deming stated that 95% of problems are systemic, this is the system to which he was referring.  In the factory, over-sized, immovable equipment is often referred to as “monolithic”, referring to its immovability and un-changeability. But the greatest monolithic structure by far in any business is the model by which it operates; the system in whose context strategy is set, organization is developed, and policy created.  These are the ultimate building blocks of the “status quo.”  (Noticing a theme here?)

They are mostly transparent to everyone in the organization – both management and employees – and are taken for granted as givens. The irony is that this strategy and organization has been built to last in order to provide stability and standardization – and it is this very durability that suppresses the potential of Lean. The “ status quo” management system by which traditional businesses operate is durable, but most definitely not a given, and it will be management’s responsibility to kaizen this system to create a new business model. Without this critical systemic improvement, any Lean initiative will soon be eclipsed by old ways. Be forewarned, nearly every policy must be reconsidered.

Are you Rowing Upstream? Imagine that you are the change leader for your company given the assignment to transform the thinking and practices of an entire enterprise to Lean. You need to “get everyone into the same boat” and then get everyone to row together – not an easy task.

But suppose that you then discover that the direction you need to row is upstream. Now the task is nearly impossible.

The direction that the river is flowing in this case is a function of management strategy, organization and policy, all built up over years to support a production system that in many ways is fundamentally the opposite of continuous improvement. Without examination and revision of the management system, Lean will never succeed.

What then is Management to do? Kaizen! Specifically, “Management Kaizen, are six essential functions of the management process that reverse the flow of the river to support and accelerate a Lean transformation rather than thwart it.  

  1. Volition – Unwavering management commitment to and articulation of the need for Lean in a manner that touches both the intellect and passion of every employee, “their hearts and their minds”.  
  2. Policy – How do we do what we do? What are the rules and guidelines? Are these True North, or do they oppose our new direction?
  3. Planning & Deployment – Developing, managing and communicating a plan to re-direct the enterprise in a True North direction, balancing improvement time and daily management time. Critical review and revision of virtually every corporate policy and measure to encourage and reinforce the right behaviors both by management and employees.
  4. Control and Monitoring – Creation of measurements that accurately align daily management practice and performance with organizational strategy.
  5. Satisfaction – Fostering the organization and people development through on-going recognition and celebration of the Lean journey.
  6. Ideas Systems – Developing a robust system to stimulate, capture, implement, recognize and share improvement ideas.

Management’s role in transforming the management system is analogous to every employee’s role in Lean: many small improvements that come from the common sense and experience of the people who do the work – in this case the work of top management and managers.

Did you like this article? Read more about the “e2 Continuous Improvement System” here, and learn more about Engaging Hearts & Minds here. And please feel free to share your comments. I love to read them. – Bruce

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