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Leadership commitment to lean is one of, if not the most, critical requirements for a successful lean transformation. Yet one dilemma that many lean leaders have is trying to provide the lean education needed by senior leaders to effectively understand what their commitment needs to look and sound like.

In most cases the demands of the position of senior leader are significant and cause time to be a precious resource that is always running interference to all good intentions for training in lean. However, until the time is invested to truly understand lean as a business system it is very difficult for the right commitment to lean to be provided. Therefore, ensuring that what time can be invested into senior leader training is value add is essential. An honest assessment of the current level of lean knowledge existing in the leadership team is a first step.

In my experience, I believe this assessment begins by looking at the leadership team’s current ability to consistently demonstrate the following:

  1. Understand and speak the language – Lean language is more than just being able to say the words. I have seen many people, including leadership, who can espouse terms like 5S, Standard Work, etc. but have no real understanding of what they actually mean. Since many terms do not seem complex it is easy to assume you understand them. This can result into a belief they are doing lean, but the reality is it is a “false lean”. Therefore, it is important that some time in education of senior leaders be spent teaching them the true language of lean.
  2. Ability to articulate a vision or strategy for lean – When senior leadership can effectively describe why they are driving lean, what is expected from lean, and how this will be accomplished, it will do much to sway the doubters and skeptics of the commitment. However, this is dependent on senior leadership understanding lean as a business system and not just a set of tools. Ideally this will lead to eventual adaptation of Hoshin Planning over an annual business plan.
  3. Demonstrated commitment to Lean Principles and Rules in decision making – When people can see Lean Principles (ex. Structure every activity) being applied in the decisions being made it clearly sends the message that lean thinking and commitment is embedded in the leadership.

It is possible that some of the education to support these behaviors can be acquired through reading some of the many good books available on the subject. However, that should not be the sole source of education. At some point, if true commitment is present there will need to be dedicated time for the leadership team to participate in some type of “Learn, Apply, Reflect” model whereby the leadership team as a whole can participate in discussion and planning of a lean strategy they are willing to commit to. Gaining a commitment for that session can be the most difficult and critical activity for lean leaders to acquire.

Lean Learning Center

The Lean Learning Center was founded in 2001 to address the gaps and barriers that are holding back companies from successful and sustainable lean transformation. In addition to the advanced curriculum, the Center has developed a learning environment designed specifically for adult learning utilizing techniques that include discovery simulations, case studies, personal planning, and reflection – ultimately engaging people at a deep and personal level. We bring our unique lean understanding in creative ways to executives, managers, supervisors, change agents and front-line employees.

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