The Importance of Lean Leadership systems

 Why are Lean Leadership systems important? – is a question often asked after a Lean pilot implementation has failed. This leads to the next challenge:

“How do you make the new Lean system stick”

The Lean deployment journey is often inspired by the top manager asking someone to “do some Lean” as they have been inspired by a book, been to a conference or seen others have success with it. The leader will acquire some Lean expertise, either internal or external or even just have a go, to “do Lean”.  They will work though a small select group of people to implement some of the tools. The initial enthusiasm for the improvement activity gains some benefits but the energy soon dissipates and the improvements can be lost. Worst still it becomes yet another failed initiative for the business.  Little or no thought has been given to the importance of Lean management systems in the early deployment of Lean. This is critical, as its important to get success to be able to get support to move onto the next stage.

In one business we observed this cycle for ourselves. The warehouse site asked us in to start the Lean journey.  What was clearly needed was 5S – workplace organisation, starting with a big clean up. The first step was aligning the leaders to this approach. We presented the plan to the leaders and they were initially quite positive. However, when the idea of red-tagging came up to help support the clean up and  identify maintenance issues there was quite a lot of skepticism. It transpired that a similar system had been tried a year before, but nothing had been done with the red tags and they were still visible decaying around the site.

“Why?” – we asked the leadership

“They did not do anything with the tags, none were completed” was the reply.

The leaders had issued and tagged many items and had expected “others” to resolve the red tags. They has not involved anyone, communicated their intent nor set up a monitoring and coaching system to ensure the red tags got resolved in a timely manner. The leaders had expected things “just to happen”! They did not have a Lean Leadership System to help support and coach the implementation of 5S.

To resolve these issues, we red tagged items with several different operators around the site. This gained the trust and engagement of staff. We presented the list to the leadership and got them to agree to support and track red tag resolution on a regular basis. The Lean Leadership system was supported through visualisation of the tags in progress.  It also became part of the weekly meeting structure.

Needless to say most of the tags were resolved quite quickly and this started to make a significant difference around the site. The inclusive process of involving operators in the red tagging process engaged staff and broke through some of the barriers of skepticism which had built up from the last red tagging exercise.