Lean consultant and author Mike Denison, discusses the need for a systematic and applied learning approach to achieve a successful lean intervention.

Mike at a glance

  • Executive coach and lean management mentor
  • Formerly worked for Toyota when they set up the UK manufacturing operations
  • Founder of Lean Mentor International, lean management coaching and consulting company

Organisations want to be more effective and competitive, learning business improvement techniques such as lean and six sigma to achieve operational and performance excellence. Their managers spend long hours firefighting, fixing problems and trying to implement business improvement strategies, but knowledge, time, personal effort and upheaval don’t guarantee results.

We often find that organisations focus heavily on the tools and techniques, without giving thought to the leadership style, lean management fundamentals and practice necessary for implementing this kind of cultural change.

I am continually seeing the difficulties many organisations and managers face in sustaining their lean initiatives, so much that ten years ago I determined to create a lean management programme that would enable managers to understand and succeed in leading and influencing lean practices through systemising their activities and coaching staff.

The programme was designed around systemising leadership and management practices, incorporating lean thinking, lean management routines, systems thinking and neuro leadership. Our research and studies of management behaviour, success psychology and optimal learning methods encouraged us in the design and delivery in a number of successful leadership and management development programmes across different business sectors over the last 10 years.

We identified a few core areas that managers must focus on to ensure they effectively engage and influence staff to generate a greater positive organisational impact. The IMPACT model focusses on integrating just five fundamentals alongside current management knowledge to ensure a practical, scientific and systemised approach to leading and managing in a transformational environment.

Those five fundamentals are:

A manager…

  • is a coach and teacher, asking questions to enable thinking and self-reliance. This is the central fundamental, “leading with questions”;
  • must apply, teach and demonstrate routine P.D.C.A. mind-set through daily practice;
  • has to develop standard routines in their activity and staff engagement, including process assurance and performance management;
  • leads and enables business and operational transparency. Performance, priorities, progress, issues and next step actions must all be clear;
  • must ask questions leading problem solving through the development of others and not as the expert.

We found that when a manager understands and applies these fundamentals they become highly influential and methodical in enabling effective problem solving and driving continuous process improvements, as well as, conveying the value of their people.

Essential to a lean leader’s role is creating an environment where people are valued and enabled with the opportunity to contribute and realise their own potential. Leading with systems, coaching, empowering and mobilising people to think and develop their own effective ways to improve the business, guarantees the development of the next generation of successful leaders and value added thinkers.

The programme is evidence based and requires managers to demonstrate how they have applied the learning, its impact, and where they need support. The learning is performance evaluated and supported by the individual’s line manager.

Modern leadership and lean management thinking must be based on the concept of adding more value.

The difficulty for many organisations is finding the right learning approach between the spectrums of individual and organisational development, whilst ensuring a balanced focus on both task delivery and people performance. The IMPACT leadership programme achieves this balance through an applied learning approach, helping individuals and leadership teams reflect on their current style and realise the changes they need to make. Leaders are exposed to styles of management which deliver more impacting and successful outcomes.

The purpose of this programme is not to teach people how to manage, but to teach them a more effective way of managing and engaging with their workforce, to bring out the best from their people.

A Case Study for Systematic Leadership: Westinghouse

We began working with Westinghouse when Mick Gornall, the operations director at the company’s Springfields Nuclear Fuel manufacturing facility in Preston, identified an opportunity to improve the deployment of the Westinghouse manufacturing system by integrating lean leadership techniques and the development of their site leadership team.

“In the past the majority of our leadership development for middle management had been centred on generic business leadership training, supported by MBA programmes,” explains Mick.

“This was not providing our area managers with the necessary mind set and practical methods to get the most from their staff: we needed leadership development for the modern manufacturing environment, centred on the behaviours and routine management processes necessary to meet and align with the standards we had set in our operating systems.”

The solution for Westinghouse was Lean Mentor International’s High Impact Leadership Programme, which incorporates lean and systems thinking, a questioning management style, and practical routines to build new management habits. The programme was delivered through a combination of staged, skill building workshop modules with one to one coaching and applied learning.

“We are a big organisation,” explains transformation director, Dave Williams, “so from the outset we needed a programme that could be tailored to the needs of our team and delivered in a way that could be cascaded and supported through the organisation.

“Lean Mentor International was on board with that approach from day one, tailoring the programme to meet our needs and work with our executive team whilst training our own people to continue to deliver through the organisation to lower levels of management.”

Westinghouse wanted a Whole Company Approach

Having set the wheels in motion by training the executive team using the High Impact Leadership Programme and in improving overall profitability and process efficiency, Westinghouse was keen to mirror the benefits on the manufacturing side of the business across all business functions and other sites around the world.

“It had to be a whole company approach,” comments Dave. “We have now cascaded the programme to around 150 leaders at Springfields and many more at our other sites in Sweden and the US facilities, which includes senior and middle management levels, and it was clear that the benefits of a systematic leadership approach in a lean environment were not only applicable to our manufacturing operations but could also enhance performance across all business functions. Historically, there has been an expectation that any improvement in profitability had to be achieved through manufacturing efficiencies but, through the programme, all departments have been challenged to incorporate strategy deployment and management coaching into everything they do, contextualising how their actions are aligned to Westinghouse’s business breakthrough strategies and focusing on the role of individuals in delivering those strategies. This program has now become one of our standards for leadership development at Westinghouse, and is part of our HPL (High Performing Leadership) ongoing programme.”

Creating a problem solving culture

A key part of the HPL Programme is the coaching and teaching techniques all the leaders develop as part of their training and, using these coaching techniques to tap into the intelligence of the 1,200 people on site has been a significant part of the programme’s success. “Following the programme, we have done a lot of work around systemising and standardising our problem solving approach,” Dave continues. “By routinely engaging with the workforce, providing them with a local problem and encouraging, even challenging them to think and explore about all the options for possible solutions they can apply, we have embedded problem solving as a company culture.”

Ongoing continuous improvement of the lean management learning process

The initial programme left managers at Westinghouse with a more systematic and sustainable way of managing and improving business through competent problem solving and confident decision making. “Anecdotally we can see the many benefits to the business,” Dave explains, “but moving on and continually improving, we needed Lean Mentor International’s help in assessing the effectiveness of our new approach.” As a result, Lean Mentor International was invited back to carry out maturity assessments and a new series of workshops with the executive team to help develop a critical path for business improvement.

Neil Farley, Head of Business Transformation, has stated “We are already, after just 2 years seeing significant changes and value from the programme in terms of continual month on month improving trends and increased Operating Profit, with a decreasing manpower profile. We have also realised substantial site cost improvement plans, and unprecedented production output improvements, with the best output performance in one of our production facilities over the last year. Plus we have had significant reductions in the cost of poor quality (COPQ) over the last 2 years.

All of these benefits, we believe are in some part down to improved focus and the coaching style of our leaders in helping staff in solving problems logically and systematically by all levels of the workforce, leading to improved individual performance and commitment. We know there will be other business benefits as our culture matures and the people take full ownership for developing those daily improvements so representative of a lean organisation.”

Dave Williams adds: “We have identified what we want to achieve, what obstacles stand on our way and what we need to do to overcome those obstacles. From here, we will continue to assess the outcomes and address any gaps in our plans so that we can align our plans with our goals to achieve sustainable business improvement.”

“The programme has been a complete success for us and we have applied many of the systems thinking and coaching techniques into our behavioural safety programme also bringing significant benefits and improvements in safety performance.”

The power of this approach for Westinghouse has been in increasing the management value through transferring a lot of decision making, ownership for solving problems in a systematic way and wanting to make continuous improvements into the staff right through every level of the organisation.

Most organisations know that developing a continuous improvement culture is much more than deploying lean tools and techniques, but many lack the insight and understanding of the changes in management behaviour, routines and focus to really gain the benefits of a lean programme. Working with Mick Gornall and Dave Williams at Springfields was an opportunity to directly influence the senior management team to help them see the value of leading with questions, having a systematic approach to their activities, especially around problem solving, and challenging their people to think for themselves.

The programme was designed around Westinghouse’s existing manufacturing system rollout and policy deployment process, so that it became business as usual and not a new initiative; this was important to enable continuity of the transformation, bringing about change as a result of an iterative management process. They already had many lean tools established, but the workforce were continually waiting to be told what to do. Because the programme was tailored to their systems, enabled their leaders to develop the systematic thinking capacity in their people.

Development of leaders and managers can be a challenge for a number of reasons. First, they think they have little time to attend three or even a five day development course that keeps them away from business, even though it might be the right thing to do; secondly, taking on board all the necessary information and remembering how to apply it when they get back to the sharp end is almost impossible, especially when the real world of problems, challenges and daily urgency takes over; finally you can’t really learn lean management practices away from the business, it has to be contextualised in real world results and practiced in the business with self-reflection and ongoing support.

This is what makes this programme so successful: it was delivered in short, 1-2 day modules, with the learning building gradually and being applied over time, each new module adding to the last to create an embedded management style that can be practiced and improved between modules, utilising the A3 reporting process to self-reflect and commit to small improvements that can be measured.

Keith Riley, Head of Westinghouse Manufacturing System, Westinghouse Nuclear Fuels:

“We were looking for lean leadership expertise, to help us with our Leadership and Management development requirements, to bridge the gap between tool deployment and effective implementation through the style of our leadership. The engine of change is most positively through leadership engagement and participation in a standard and structured manner of management behaviours aligned with key tools and this course has delivered this for the first time. The change in the Senior Operations Teams outlook and approach across the business was exciting and completely met all our objectives.”

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