Getting Leaders Involved

“How do I get the leaders involved?” How often have we all heard, or even asked, that question? Of course the actual answer is “you can’t.” At least you can’t force them to. But there are things that might help the leader decide to get involved.

I think the biggest mistake people make is to assume that in the face of adequate logical argument, a right-thinking leader will see the benefits and jump right in. This thinking ignores one simple truth: Leaders are human. Humans, in spite of our desire to believe otherwise, make decisions at an emotional level, and then construct a logical argument to support the decision. Actually we construct illogical arguments, carefully shaping, amplifying, demoting, excluding evidence to rationalize what we want to do. We humans would all like to believe (or would like other humans to believe) that our decisions are logical and rational. Sorry, just ’tain’t so. Advertisers and marketers know this, as do good politicians.

Another big mistake is to think it is possible to use measures to “make” them engage. “If only,” it is thought, “we used the right metrics.” Again, sorry. You can’t measure people into behaving a certain way. An even worse approach is to try to measure “lean implementation” as if you can quantify it by looking at what tools are in use. That, at best, drives the wrong behavior with shallow understanding. At worst, it poisons the entire implementation. Counting kaizen events falls into this category, as does demanding central reporting on them.

True leaders do what they believe are the right things, metrics be damned. And the ones who focus all of their decisions on making the metrics look good are not the people you want to have that kind of responsibility.

So what does work?

Let’s go back and think through what we want here.

Consider this: We emphasize full involvement and participation from the people who carry out the production processes, but we don’t demand the same level of participation from the people who carry out the management process.

So what do we do to get the production people fully participating? I can’t speak for anyone else, but what I have found that works is to give them the opportunity to step back and just watch the process and understand what is actually happening.

Remember, there are no guarantees. Nothing is a sure bet. But if you buy the argument that a purely logical argument probably isn’t going to do it, then you need to look at how to make an emotional impact.

I think the key is to help them see one important thing: Most of the things which disrupt people’s work are small. They are small problems, and each one has a small impact. It is the cumulative impact of these issues which overwhelm the traditional response system.

But those small things are also wonderful because almost anyone with a little time, a little smarts, and a little leadership support can come up with countermeasures that make those problems go away. Since “smarts” is pretty much randomly distributed in the organization (meaning no one has a monopoly on it by virtue of position), it is the other two ingredients which leadership must provide.

The classic “kaizen event” is a wonderful way to teach just what this is about. In fact, that was the original intention of the classic “kaizen event.” I have already talked about that. But you don’t need a formal kaizen event to do this, you just need you and a leader willing to humor you.

Take your leader down to the work area. Stand with him “in the chalk circle” and give him a running commentary of what you see. Call out everything that isn’t value-add, and get him thinking why that activity is necessary. Then go fix something. The two of you, together. Go get the cardboard, the bins. Go propose a couple of solutions to the affected worker(s). Going to them with something concrete to bounce from is a more effective way (in the beginning) to get their input than asking them a totally open-ended “What do you want here?” question.

Try a few things, make an improvement.

Then make another. Then another.

Work at this for as long as you can get away with it.

Then ask your leader to do the same thing you just did with him, only do it with his direct report(s). At that point, try to shift your role to that of a facilitator and adviser.

If you succeed, you leader catches kaizen fever.

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