My old mentor once told me that you can have people do everything if you treat them well and explain why something needs to be done. If you, however, constantly tell them what to do and how to do it, you will head directly to disaster.

Having worked as a manager and, with some success and the right support, turned my approach into one that was leadership-based, I learned the truth the hard way. Finding the right balance is also about acknowledging that people are different and therefore need to be treated differently if they are to fulfil their potential.

You will have one type of result if you only use a top-down approach and forget all about involvement and a completely different result if you work with your people to improve the system. The latter option also includes paying attention to individuals, asking for their advice as well as using a coaching-based approach to support experiments to test if proposed solutions to specific issues will work.

I’m sure most people in a leadership position will agree that training and education are worth the investment… not because we can afford it, but because we can’t afford not to invest in them.

If you don’t provide training, the opportunity to build competence in your people vanishes and you will eventually be forced to increase activities focused on fire-fighting, which will drive costs up. If you invest in your people, however, there is a chance they will help preventing those fires from occurring in the first place, and with lower costs. This is just one example of doing the right things instead of doing things right!

We all like to be challenged… so why not create a culture involving people in problem identification and problem solving? Too many managers tell people, “This is the problem,” and continue telling them what solution they should go and implement. Funny enough, these are often also the people talking about teamwork… but there is no “i” in team!

What happened to the idea that engagement comes from being recognised, trusted and involved?

In the lean community, we talk a lot about the need for leadership, engagement and visual support from the senior management team. What about taking even more personal responsibility and showing leadership ourselves? I generally believe leadership is part of all people and everyone can do that one thing that makes a difference to the customer, shareholder, colleague, CEO, etc. We all show leadership on a daily basis, making decisions. And if we regularly ask for 1-2-1’s to discuss how we can increase our competences, do a better job, better understand what’s at stake for our leader or get some general guidance on a specific issue I am sure that even the most stubborn manager in time will understand that he can’t afford not to spend time to caring for his people.

This edition of LMJ is dedicated to the people aspect of lean. Let’s remember that the “P” in TPS could also stand for “people”. Without our people, there is no value. Without people, no one will select the right solution to a problem.