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Are your company executives lean leaders?

Last month, I wrote about the concept of lean management and what that means not only for your company but also for your customers.

If company leadership wants to transform the culture of the organization and become a lean company, they’ve first got to understand what comprises lean leadership. And then ask themselves if they “qualify.” In other words, they need to be lean leaders themselves.

What does that mean?

Lean for Dummies outlines the following behaviors of lean leaders.

They know how the business serves the customers by:

  • Understanding what customers want, need, and value, or what will thrill them
  • Knowing how the business satisfies the customer
  • Improving the effectiveness of how the business satisfies the customer

They build ability in the people through:

  • Guiding problem solving — root cause, right problem, right resources
  • Leading from gemba; applying 3Gen
  • Asking open-ended, probing questions

They show a continuous improvement mindset by:

  • Continually challenging the status quo
  • Knowing that there is always room for improvement
  • Understanding that the customer changes — what delights today is a necessity tomorrow

They focus on process and results by:

  • Obtaining results
  • Ensuring that how the results are achieved is the most effective utilization of all resources, in the direction of the ideal state
  • Improving how the organization accomplishes results

They demonstrate an understanding of the value stream at a macro and micro level through:

  • Knowing what the customer requires and how the value stream satisfies them
  • Having knowledge of the overall value stream, including tributaries
  • Asking questions when changes are made at the local level to ensure that the team understands how the change will impact the customer and the rest of the value stream

They create a culture to sustain improvement by:

  • Identifying, modeling, and encouraging Lean behaviors
  • Finding the lessons in every “failure” — blame does not foster improvement or innovation
  • Respecting and improving standards — questions when the organization is deviating from the standard

I could’ve stopped right there and claimed that I knew enough about lean leaders. But I thought I’d take a look at a couple of other sites offering up traits and behaviors of lean leaders in order to hear some different perspectives.

TBM Consulting Group explained nine behaviors and actions of lean leadership in their whitepaper, 9 Ways Leaders’ Actions Can Sustain Lean Progress.

  1. Communicate the vision
  2. Always update standard work 
  3. Go on gemba walks 
  4. Build a continuous improvement culture
  5. Foster a respectful, team-drive organization
  6. Continue to motivate employees
  7. Maintain regular training
  8. Reinforce performance and progress with metrics and visual-management tools
  9. Post continuous-improvement scorecards

And, finally, Process Excellence Network shared six traits of lean leaders. They…

  1. Embrace that lean is a journey and requires long-term thinking, patience, and a sustainability mindset.
  2. Relentlessly pursue perfection, which is the essence of Kaizen thinking.
  3. Have a fanatical focus on customers, as they are the beginning and end of everything in lean.
  4. Champion simplicity, making “find and eliminate waste” their mantra.
  5. Live gemba, spending time where it happens, at various employee and customer touchpoints
  6. Are authentic, upstanding, and respectful, as lean leaders are coaches who lead by example

As I read the traits from these three sources, I realized that they’ve included all the things we typically preach when it comes to a customer experience/culture transformation. One of my favorite aspects is the notion of gemba (which all three sources have in common), going to see where the action happens. If you don’t see for yourself, if you don’t understand it, if you don’t gather facts at the point where “it” happens, then you can’t transform it.

Now, how do we develop leaders with these traits? Or instill these traits into our leaders? If they came with these traits, wouldn’t your job as a customer experience professional be much easier?

There are three kinds of leaders: those who tell you what to do, those who allow you to do what you want, and Lean leaders who come down to the work and help you figure it out. -John Shook