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04.22.15

How a Lean CEO Thinks and Why You Should Too

Leadership
The Lean CEO by Jacob Stoller gets to the thinking behind why Lean management works. I think "Lean" is a poor moniker to give the approach. It tends to make people think of cost-cutting or how to get the most work out of the fewest number of people. It sounds like a manufacturing thing. But that is misleading.

It is a holistic approach to management. It produces excellence because it is good leadership. It is “a fundamental overhaul in the way companies manage people.” To be sure it is about creating the most value from the resources you have whether it be time, money, people, or equipment. It strips away any event that does not add value by creating leaders at all levels.

Stoller points out, Lean organizations outperform non-Lean organizations for two basic reasons:

Lean Brings Out the Best in People
Lean is respectful of people, develops and makes use of people’s gifts. “Lean provides the antidote for the common complaint ‘I love my work, but I can’t stand all the other stuff that goes on.’ Lean sees that ‘other stuff’ as waste, and any employee who feels that frustration can lead the charge to get rid of that waste.” It builds teamwork. How can we produce the best work together?

Lean Gets Leaders in Touch with Reality
Management does not lack data. What is typically lacks is context. Lean provides that context. It connects every member of the team to what is really going on. A Lean organization is essentially a learning organization which makes it especially suited for uncertain times.
“Lean provides a disciplined structure that allows an organization to focus resources on measureable customer-oriented goals, essentially codifying what has made the company successful. Because Lean creates a continuous improvement environment where all employees are asked for input on decisions, the Lean journey allows the CEO to naturally evolve from reactive day-to-day decision maker to proactive teacher, coach, and strategist.”
Stoller begins The Lean CEO with an exceptional survey of how we got to be so wasteful. Wasteful of people’s time, energy and talent in particular. Abundance often leads to waste and hides issues that should be dealt with. Many Lean CEOs would not have adopted Lean practices without a crisis.

Stoller profiles 28 Lean CEOs in this book that have implemented Lean in a variety of industries with great success. There is a lot to glean from these pages. Here are some ideas to reflect on:
Lean creates the ideal environment for motivating workers. Recognition, variety, autonomy, and the opportunity to learn are all intrinsic to the employee’s role in a culture of continuous improvement.

Productivity was not about more effort and being more tired at the end of the day. It was about working together to create the conditions to be more productive.

Leaving a person to sink or swim violates what may be the most important pillar of Lean: respect for people.

Accountability is about making sure that everybody understands where we’re trying to go. If they don’t get to the goal, that doesn’t mean they necessarily did something wrong. It might mean that they weren’t set up for success by something I did or whatever. So it’s about supporting them so that they can be successful. And accountability means coming back with an action, or something they did next, and a plan for what they’re going to do next. “I did this, this, and this, and this is what I learned, this is where I am, and this is what I’m going to do next. What do you guys think?

We celebrate the individual, not the numbers. The numbers are a by-product.

It’s about high levels of engagement that accelerates the art of observation and the sharing of ideas in the interest of commonly held goals.

It bothers me when I hear Lean people say you have to get rid of barriers as fast s you can. Are they a barrier, or are they providing another kind of input?

A self-serving leader would never survive in a Lean environment.
Lean is not just a manufacturing system. It is a way of thinking about people that applies to any organization. Lean is a culture. It’s not a directive. It’s a way of thinking. It is about being open and humble. It’s about diversity of thought and understanding that good ideas come from anywhere.

The Lean CEO gets to the heart of what it means to lead from anywhere.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:54 PM
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