In my last article, Beyond Kaizen Events, I proposed that an institution involved in a Lean Healthcare journey that limits its focus to Kaizen Events, runs the risk of finding itself in an organization characterized by “pockets” of success. These pockets of success can only exist temporarily. Similar to the bubbles in a champagne glass they emerge, rise to the fore-front as shining examples of what is achievable and eventually burst as conditions change. I further proposed that to move beyond Kaizen Events means asking three key questions:
- How do we accelerate the accomplishment of our business strategy?
- How do we lead in a Lean Healthcare environment?
- How do we proactively manage change and align our systems and structures to support what we are trying to achieve?
Most of the feedback I received on this thought-piece was inquiries into Question 2. We know we need to lead differently in a Lean environment, but how do we get there from here?
Strong and active coaching is central to Lean leadership. Coaching moves beyond just the results and into the methods. This is often an alien concept. In a management by objective organization, if a bad process yields a good result, it’s a good thing. In a Lean environment, if a bad process yields a good outcome, it is not a good thing. The team either got very lucky or worked very hard to overcome a bad process. Neither is desired. You often hear Senior Leadership “buy-in” cited as a primary cause of failed transformation efforts. Personally, I believe that we more frequently fail to adequately prepare front-line leadership and mid-level managers to become effective coaches and resource allocators. I believe that this is perhaps the most profound leverage point in creating a leadership advantage and in sustaining transformations.
In a Lean environment the ability to see waste and eliminate it from processes must become a coached, nurtured, and highly developed skill-set within the front-line employee. In many organizations, front-line and mid-level leaders find success and growth through the ability to work through (but more frequently around) problems. This limits the spread of a critical skill-set within the front-line as these leaders either continue to drive the work-around activity through daily fire-fighting, attempt to solve problems from outside of the gemba, or are just too busy to coach. To start enabling a coaching environment and facilitate the development of strong front-line and mid-level leaders, there are three key competencies to focus on:
- The ability to both define and operationalize leadership standard work.
- The ability to both design and implement visual management systems and visual controls.
- The ability to solve problems to the root cause.
Are there others? Of course, however, focusing on these three will provide leverage by “pulling” the majority of other skills along.
Leadership standard work has been described as the “highest leverage tool in the Lean management system.” It is based on the idea that all work (including that of supervisors, managers and executives) should be “specified for content, sequence, timing, location and outcome.” What makes this tool exceptionally effective is that, when well defined and operationalized, it drives process definition, disciplined adherence to process and daily accountability. It sets the standard and helps the front line recognize problems. More importantly it compels action and drives coaching efforts.
Visual controls and visual management systems also help the team to recognize problems and until they are recognized as problems they remain unsolved. They also, more importantly, prompt action. This aids in setting the expectation that problems are solved, as surfaced, within the current stream of work. When visual management and leadership standard work are well designed and implemented, they have the ability to create within the front line a strong linkage between strategic imperatives and specific behaviors. The reinforcement of these specific behaviors and the development of requisite skills becomes the basis of coaching.
Finally, in order for front-line employees to get comfortable solving problems at a root cause level as surfaced within the work, they need both a simple problem solving methodology and the support of a coach. A3 problem solving provides an approach that is easy-to-understand and implement. However, without the support of a competent coach, the effectiveness of the tools is marginalized.
Building leadership competency with an emphasis on coaching for both results and methods drives organizational growth and reinforces the linkages between strategy and behavior, and between action and result. By beginning with front-line and mid-manager capability in the development and deployment of the tools described above, it is possible to gain significant leverage. This leverage enables the pull for other necessary skills that move the organization beyond Kaizen Events and becoming Lean into actually being Lean. Developing leadership moves the organization from pockets of success to a clear — and sustainable — competitive advantage.
1 Mann, David. Creating a Lean Culture: Tools To Sustain Lean Conversions. Productivity Press, 2005.
2 Spear, Steve. Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. Harvard Business Review, 1999.
This week’s blog was written by Bradley Schultz, a director and consultant for HPP. Before joining HPP, Bradley was serving as Vice President of Operations & Quality for Infinity Resources Inc. where he pioneered the application of Lean, Six-Sigma, Work-Out™, and CAP (Change Acceleration Process) in the retail market sector. Bradley began his career in manufacturing with GE Healthcare and was working as a Manufacturing/Quality Engineer when GE adopted the Six-Sigma methodology from Motorola. In 1995, GE Healthcare began providing consulting services based upon these tools to its customers through its Performance Solutions business unit, pioneering the application of Six-Sigma in healthcare. Bradley joined Performance Solutions in 1996 during its infancy and remained with the business unit for seven years. Bradley’s educational background includes: a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Post Graduate Certification in Quality Engineering from Milwaukee School of Engineering, a Master of Arts degree in Business Administration from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Six-Sigma Master Black Belt Certification from General Electric, and Front-Line Leadership Development Certification from Achieve Global.