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Leadership behaviour dictates the pace of change

Leadership support is a pre-requisite for any Lean change: If you want your staff to make changes then they need to be comfortable with the idea and know that their actions are supported.

Implementing Lean change requires operatives feeling empowered to question the value of what they’re doing and confidence that their suggestions and improvements won’t be regarded as slights or criticisms of the current situation. Creating a support culture requires consistent, ongoing and frequent communication. Whether by laying out a vision, internal communications messages, in staff meetings, daily huddles or simply recognition (or a ‘thank you’) for a job well done.

As a good General leads his army from the front, the same needs to happen for business leaders: their role is to lend support, guiding and encouraging their staff to take ownership and to implement change.

A recent client, a small scale specialist supplier to the construction industry, exemplified this approach. Our brief was to map and improve their end to end order to delivery processes. We developed a future state map and plans to significantly reduce inventory, improve on-time delivery and help scale up production to meet expansion plans. But what impressed me most, giving confidence that Lean will succeed there was the behaviour of the Managing Director. Not only did he actively support our Lean workshops but during breaks he could be found with sleeves rolled up, helping to load finished goods, discussing technical details with the sales team or lending a hand on the shop floor. His energy and enthusiasm was infectious but more than that, he empowered his team, promoting their ideas and urging them to own the improvements that were developed.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what needs to be done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.