Why do so many companies do lean things, but struggle to become a truly lean company?
The answer lies with the reluctance of mid-level management to adopt the improvement mindset. Most top-level managers we know do understand lean and the impact it can have. And while we aren’t always satisfied with the level of involvement coming from the top, we find they generally do support efforts and provide the resources needed to make things happen.
At the opposite end of the hierarchy, associates on the front lines will typically give lean a chance, and often become supporters when they see how lean techniques have a positive impact on their job—how lean makes their workplace safer and their work process easier. As long as your front line associates clearly understand the organization’s improvement goals and their role in them, you will have a cadre of lean supporters.
Mid-level management poses a special challenge. These individuals are often the most threatened by the changes lean transformation brings to the company and their jobs. They are the ones who often feel as if they are losing control and giving up authority to people lower in the organization.
Organizations with support from the top and participation on the floor should focus energy on bridging the gap in the middle. Failure to recognize and address the issues in the middle will hinder or halt your progress and ensure you remain a company that does lean things rather than becoming a lean company.
Here are 6 actions that will help your mid-level managers make a successful transition:
- Articulate the vision for them – like your front-line associates, your mid-level managers need to have a clear understanding of the company’s vision and their role in it. Be open about the fact that the transition will be difficult at times and reinforce the reasons this change will benefit the entire organization.
- Give them the theory – provide them with a ‘framework’ for the way their new role should function but let them fill in the details – “the how’s”.
- Demonstrate for them – lead by example. As a top-level leader, your role is changing too. Demonstrate the behaviors you expect others to exhibit.
- Let them apply – give them the freedom and space to experiment. There is a learning curve associated with learning and perfecting lean leadership skills. What is most important is that they understand you are serious about the new leadership expectations (that this is not just a ‘program of the month’) and they are truly making the effort to adapt.
- Let them reflect – changing behavior is a process, it won’t happen overnight and you can count on having both good and bad days. Provide a structured time for your managers to reflect on what is going well and what isn’t. Learning a new way to work will not always be comfortable, providing time to reflect will limit frustrations and keep the process on track.
- Give them feedback – providing “pats on the back” and constructive comments will ensure your managers know that you are taking notice of the effort they are making.
If you’d like to talk more about developing coaching and leadership routines (also known as kata) reach out; teachers teaching teachers is a topic I am very passionate about. I’d love to hear your perspective.
Jim Vatalaro, Sr. Management Consultant