Written by Dave Skelton

Written by Dave Skelton

The word Lean can be very emotive. Some individuals hear “Lean” mentioned and fear strikes their core and is seen as an invasion on the normality of there world, some hear it mentioned and brush it off as another fad of the month so why should I bother to engage and others hear it and embrace the concept as a chance to make a difference.

I did not always hold a passion for Lean. I was one of the many people who pushed against change. I looked upon it as an invasion of the norm and a fad, however now I look back and ask myself why? Why did I see it that way? after given the subject some thought it became very clear? At the time I did not understand it, and I did not trust the idea. I placed the reason for my mistrust in Lean and the new process at the feet of the management and training element of this new lean implementation.

I was first introduced to the lean concept in or around 2000, the vision was simple. We had a new idea which was going to change everything, this message only fuelled my scepticism for the pending change. We started our journey of lean with a big fuss and carried out a 5S activity with the managers and directors, this was our new saviour! I was not convinced, the workplace looked great but I did not feel different. This was the beginning of the end for lean and its implementation in my eyes.

As you can probably work out, the implementation and the ability to sustain change failed we became one of the 75%. The team spent a few months trying to understand and worked with the concept, however the pressure to perform encouraged the old way of working to sneak back in. In our opinion was easier so it did not take much of a push to revert back to type and gave us the blinkers of ignorance to the changing world around us.

A few months had passed and I found out the managers and directors had attended a series of courses to understand lean and its rewards, I remember thinking firstly why was the training limited to the top tier management and secondly why had they allowed the lean journey to fail. The answer was obvious! the teams had failed to understand the power of lean. Lean is part process and part Mind-set, skill and capability. The Management team had the opinion Lean thinking was just a switch operation and once on the concept needs no further engagement as it should make an immediate difference.

Light bulb moments

A few years later I was lucky enough to be included in a second lean exercise, this time we were working with the world famous McKinsey & Company. The experience felt different and the energy sparked our imagination, we still had the memories from the last experience but we had experience to know what did not work, we knew we needed to drive the correct behaviour. The teams were included, guided and supported through the change program, leaders were developed to drive change and managers were developed to manage change. This was the key to success, and what a success story we had. We were cutting non value added waste, we were seeing a 50% increase in production, 58% increase in quality right first time and a massive increase in skills and buy in from the teams. We were saving time and money, I had brought in hook, line and sinker.

So the point! as I said above Lean is my passion, however I believe the process cannot be a success if it is imposed and only focused on the process, “if we sort of do it then it will sort of work” Lean success requires people development and mind sets changed. “The mind is like a parachute, it only works when its open” The employees need to understand they are unconsciously unskilled and the only way is to open their minds to be coached, The entire success of an implementation rests in the hands of the employees, managers, leaders and directors.

Being the Boss

It was not long after I became the boss, it’s not easy being a Boss, it’s even harder being a boss whilst going through a lean transformation. Up to this point I had closely guided my team and sometimes I had got to a point of despair with individuals, whatever my inner self was telling me, I had to place my trust in a new methodology and in my people. I was talking with a very experienced manager one day who told me a good leader understands what’s required for the future and will also accept there is a need for the manager to change and develop. Thinking back to my past I remembered how it went wrong and realised it was my job to remove barriers and supply the necessary.

I quickly realised managing and leading are 2 very different sets of skills, both overlap and work together in harmony. It became quickly apparent carrying out a change management program should be about learning how to lead for change. The biggest mountain to climb when changing a culture are your people, the way they think, feel and act becomes the backbone of the change culture. Add to this changing processes and working environment the situation can become volatile and disruptive, as I found out.

I became a Leader of people and developed my abilities and skills to coach, I become the first line trainer for the team, I learnt that People learn best by doing and they also learn by seeing, my actions were imitated. I was lucky to have come through the ranks and it became a powerful advantage to have the ability to understand the process, people and purpose of a change program and have the skills to role model the correct behaviour and lead the team through the uncertainty.

With this I also became a manager who also had to deliver, with help I developed the strength of character and experience to set my expectations whilst holding individuals accountable for the part they play in the organisation and process which clearly made them responsible for their part of the process and answerable for the results.

Task, Team and Individual

To be effective I required a strong management style and a proven management process, John Adair is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership and leadership development. His concept worked well for me as a lean manager and a leader.

To use this effectively you need to ask yourself “what is the desired outcome of the Task?” are we achieving the KPIs set by the business? What are my managers and leaders doing to deliver the task within the KPIs. Then “Is the Team prepared to deliver the targets to achieve the task?”, do they communicate effectively? do they pull together? do they have the skills and ability to perform? What is the manager doing to increase the team’s effectiveness to deliver the task? And finally “Is each individual of the team playing an effective part within the team to achieve the task?” Are they being developed? do they know what’s expected of them? are they able to grow and able to discuss their needs? are we coaching and training to succeed? What is the manager doing to increase the effectiveness of the individual, to build the effectiveness of the team and deliver the Task within the KPIs?

By learning to manage up the chain and understanding how I could become a highly effective individual I uncovered a new way to set and sustain standards, set expectations and grow the team’s ability through the development of my coaching style, whilst holding the members of the team accountable, responsible and answerable for their part of the business / process which in turn played a part in stopping the process and achievements to slip back.

This approach helped me and I am sure it will help any leader to keep ahead of developments allowing a structured view of the project and in turn it encouraged me to stay out of the weeds by trusting the team to deliver.

Seeking Interdependence

As a leader and manager I developed a new mindset and started to experience win – win situations with my teams and peers, it became important for me to concentrate on the relationships with my peers. The strength I found within a bubble of interdependency was very fulfilling and empowering, my communication and cooperation styles changed to encourage group members to trust and engage with the me and others.

I also found the Hoshin Kanri theory important, it strives to ensure every employee is pulling in the same direction at the same time. As I understood and actively practiced the elements of the Hoshin Kanri theory it demonstrated the importance of group communication and the benefits of support from my peers. Communication is key to change; the ability to communicate effectively reduces misunderstanding which in turn reduces mistakes.

Managers and leaders play a massive part in the success of the change story, the ability to role model, encourage, set expectations and remove barriers will help the team succeed. However, lean has to be driven from the bottom up, the change is developed and set by the workforce. Lean success can only really be found if we implement the change in the correct manner, it’s not about telling and imposing but about encouraging, growing and learning.

We know 75% of implementations fail, we know it can only succeed if coached with belief and passion, and we have the experience to know a failed implementation can discredit the house of lean and brand the process as a failure.

I would like to think my initial lean experience gives you all an understanding for how I felt as an employee faced with a new concept coming in at the wrong angle. However, if we are mindful of people’s views and always remember the key to lean success is gripped firmly by the employees not by the directors alone, then failure to change and sustain will become less of an issue.

My experience and passion for lean became my career, I now enjoy and have the opportunity to help develop and watch individuals grow, help develop and implement processes that work and work with a methodology I have brought into hook, line and sinker.