Leading a lean transformation is not a spectator sport. You have to get off the sidelines and into the game if anything is actually going to change. Too many times I hear managers and executives say, “I completely support lean and the work you are doing.” This is a good start but that is not what lean thinking is about. Lean is about putting the principles and rules into action. We must change the way we are doing things or we are becoming Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.
What stops someone from getting out and leading the lean transformation? The two things I have run into is not knowing where to start and fear.
Where to start? is a common question. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. Read a book, an article, or a blog. Information on lean is everywhere today. Pick up something, read it, try to apply it, then reflect and see how what you tried worked and how it didn’t work. Lean is about learning and improving, so learn something and try it. Then improve it. Continue that cycle over and over.
One obstacle to the learning cycle is fear. Fear of failure or the fear of not being the expert. People may be willing to learn and improve, but there may be a fear of failing. What will people think? How will I be perceived if I fail? I don’t think it is failing that people might grumble about. It is how you react when you fail. If you try and fail and give up, that can be seen as failure because you never tried to fix it. If you try and fail, but learn and apply the learning to try again chances are you will succeed. When you succeed you will be seen as persistent.
Another reason people may be afraid to try lean is not being the expert. I have been learning, implementing, applying, and improving my lean knowledge for over 10 years. To this day, I still hear, “How can lean be all that good? You failed and you know more about lean than me.” You do have to have thick skin to hear that, but then you have to take the time to explain that failing is ok. Learning is about failing. Not everything works the first time.
Leading a lean transformation is very hard work. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. You don’t have to be a lean change agent to lead the transformation. In fact, it is preferred that you are not. Leading from a management role is much more effective. Most companies pay management more than the direct employees adding value to the product/service. I believe part of the reason for this is because we are expected to do the hard work of leading by setting an example.
Time to get off the sidelines and into the game. It is time to lead!