Posted by: knightbird | August 5, 2010

Lean Conversions and Executive Leadership

I listened to Dr. John Toussaint’s interview on “The Lean Nation” radio show with “Captain Karl” Wadensten talking about Lean Healthcare. You can find the program listed on Mark Graban’s www.Leanblog.org. Dr. Toussaint talks about his inspiration, and states that he was reluctant to be a participant early on in his Lean conversion, which he regretted. His mentor asked him if he had been through an event, and said he needed to.  After his first event, his mentor described his participation (all of the interruptions that happened) and advised him to totally participate by not leaving while the event was in session. I agree with that advice.

My original inspiration, which I wrote about, came from Brian Jones, former President of Nypro Precision Plastics. His High Velocity System helped me put Lean Management into perspective, especially after I saw the results at the plastics plant owned by Sealaska Corporation.

From the beginning of our Lean conversion, I championed the effort. I learned how to conduct Kaizen, and did. I sat in on almost all of our early Kaizen, especially when Dr. Tom Jackson was conducting them. It is quite a treat to watch a seasoned pro at work. After hours, Tom and I would talk about what was necessary to lead a Lean conversion. As we progressed, I learned more and more. The number 1 lesson I learned was that my leadership mattered, more than anything else I had to offer.

My first effort at communicating to the employees was to highlight our board’s Mission Statement.  When I arrived at Chugachmiut, there was one framed statement sitting on the floor of the Executive Assistant. It was pieced together with copied text in 8 ½ x 11 inch copy paper. It looked terrible. We had it professionally typeset and framed, with an appropriate graphic of our corporate logo, and distributed throughout the organization. One is hung on my office wall and on each Division Director’s office wall. Large framed posters are over the reception desk and in the board room. Consistent messaging is critical to a Lean conversion.

Early in our efforts, it was clear that our employees were distrustful of leadership. We needed to create an atmosphere of trust, which meant removing the concepts of blame and shame from the workplace. This took Executive effort on a daily basis. It also meant I had to walk the talk, and remove blame from my leadership style. I said constantly that “It’s not about us, it’s about our customer.” We talked about “find a defect, fix a defect.” We adopted our Employee Values Statement. We spoke frequently about being fact based and non judgmental. But most of all, we taught our employees the tools of lean in the context of culture. We eliminated performance evaluations to let our employees know that we were interested in performing every day, and that the time to discuss performance was then it was happening. Every day is about performing standard work, and improving it. It’s about creative thinking about ways to improve and provide ever increasing service to our customers. Without the Executive Leadership leading the effort, you will not get the results described in the Lean literature.

Mark Graban posted a question on http://www.Leanblog.org today (August 5, 2010) about the potential for success of an employee asked to lead a lean implementation. In my opinion, it will not and cannot work until the Leadership takes ownership of the Lean Cultural conversion. Then the tools will start to work.

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