Balancing the Roles of an Internal Lean Consultant

For several years, I have played the role of internal consultant within four different companies.  While have the same type of role, my responsibilities have changed quite a bit.

In the first two companies I was asked to execute lean tools and concepts and drive business results directly.  The influencing only occurred when the business partner had natural curiosity and wanted to learn.  My scale was heavily tipped to the “Do It” side, which at the time was great.  I was learning myself, so this allowed me to make mistakes, learn, and then correct them.

The third company had a Six Sigma culture that was very strong and asked me to help them incorporate lean into their program.  It was a corporate position.  Having been heavy on the “Do It” side, I had to learn how to influence and move to the other side of the scale.  For two years, I pretty much abandoned my “Do It” skills and moved to “Influence” causing the scale to tip in that direction.  I wanted to learn how to influence well so I overcompensated.

My current company would like to see a balance of the two.  As great as it sounds, I had to realize that by reading between the lines and then learn how to balance them.  It hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes the customer thinks they want a person to execute something when they really want an influencer or vice versa.  Once I learned  different parts of the company want different roles, it allowed me to be more direct and upfront.  I can now ask questions getting to the type of role the customer wants.  Once I have an understanding, I can ask directly if they want a “do it” person or an “influence” person.  Now we are setting expectations upfront before the work starts.  It has made for better results and less confusion between me and the customer.

Does anyone else struggle with this?  How do you handle it?


Posted on June 22, 2011, in Customer Focus, People and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. interesting article. I’d be curious to learn more about what you did in each role. right now I feel like I am in a “do it” position, although my supervisor (also a “lean” person) and I are trying to work towards “influencing” and teaching.

    • Ann, that is a great question. In my first role I was a lean change agent for a specific plant. I reported directly to the plant manager. The plant manager made it clear the lean change agents had the right to engage and make changes. We made changes and made mistakes. We were the “doers”. We execute the changes and made sure they were sustaining.

      My second role was a corporate role to help the company get their lean efforts up and running. I had no responsibility to the site. I had to spend time influencing the vice president and plant managers. Then they gave me permission to work with the teams inside the plant. I was traveling the country supporting several sites so I couldn’t take responsibility for the execution. I had to influencing the teams to want to act.

      In my current role, I am in another corporate lean change agent role. Now we have some responsibility on execution and some responsibility on influencing. We have to understand the role we will be playing in each situation so we provide the right support.

      There is still some influencing you can do as you are a doer. It is harder. But the trick is to influence as doing. For example, I was charged with reducing changeover time in a facility. I presented a plan to reduce changeover on 8 pieces of equipment during the year, but part of the plan was to train 5 other facilitators on how to lead a changeover kaizen event. When they agreed, I spent time influencing the new facilitators in lean thinking and SMED techniques and why SMED is important.

      This is just one way to infuse the two.

  2. thanks for clarifying Matt. I agree that doers can influence. In fact, I have to influence as I don’t have a whole lot of authority to just act on everything. What I struggle with is getting managers to engage in lean and follow through on our lean events. We are improving though 🙂

  3. Great article Matt. I am an internal consultant too. I think understanding the role is important.

    At my current organization, in the beginning our consultantcy model was to influence but then we ended up shifingt to doers when when the internal clients were too busy or had a crisis. The prevailing thought was the results will get people engaged in doing the work. The problem was, it became expected we were the doers and Lean became something delegated instead of owned by the people doing the work. We have positioned ourselves as influencers now but some clients still have the perception of us as doers that we have to work through.

    There are some times we have to partner with clients to help with some of the doing, but I would never do something without them near my side. I firmly believe they won’t sustain unless they have dirty hands from helping build it.

  4. Matt, Good article and the comments after by you and Brian. This is a normal struggle I think for many organization and the lean leaders. It is probably related to the level of involvement the management team has with lean. In my experience the less knowledgeable the management and the less than know about real lean (people development) the more they think of it as tools and they want you to just do. The more they know of lean the more they know the benefit is from influencing. I recently had a change of management at my company that made my role change from influencing to doing. I think the role is a balancing act sometimes but the real long term benefit is not from doing but from influencing.

  5. I have always looked at it as a balancing act….you need to ‘do enough’ to gain the credibility to influence.
    In my opinion, understanding the expectations of your clients (and honestly, 98% of the time they really don’t know what to expect) is not only key but should help a person understand what is needed (i.e. more do for credibility or influence).

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