I coined the phrase “What you see is how we think” to suggest that the principles of lean thinking are not only embraced by everyone but are also evident throughout the organization. In this context, becoming a lean organization requires effective leadership to create and foster an environment that allows lean thinking to flourish. Just as a teacher establishes an environment for learning in the classroom, leaders carry the responsibility for cultivating a lean culture in their organizations.
So how could it be that Lean Leadership is the missing link? I suspect and have observed that too many leaders have displaced the responsibility for lean into the middle management ranks rather than taking ownership of the initiative themselves. These same leaders often operate on the premise that lean is simply a matter of implementing a collection of prescriptive tools to improve efficiency and cut costs. It is clear they have failed to understand the most fundamental principles and basic tenets of lean. If this sounds familiar, I recommend reading “The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from The World’s Greatest Manufacturer” by Jeffrey K. Liker.
So where do we turn?
Toyota is one company that exemplifies what it means to be lean and the lessons learned through their trials, tribulations, and continued successes are well documented. I admire Toyota both through first hand experience as a supplier of products to all of their operations in North America and secondly through their willingness to openly share their experiences with the rest of the world. This is evidenced by the many books and articles that have featured them.
I recognize that Toyota has been the subject of many news stories in recent years, the most notable being the recession of 2008, the extremely high-profile recall crisis for Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in 2009, and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In turn however, we must also acknowledge and recognize that Toyota’s leadership was instrumental to guiding the company through these crisis and for directly addressing the diverse range of challenges they faced.
A sobering look at the crisis that challenged Toyota’s integrity and leadership as well as the many lessons learned are well documented in “Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity” by Jeffrey K. Liker and is highly recommended reading. I am further encouraged that Toyota acknowledged that problems did exist and didn’t look to deflect blame elsewhere. Rather, Toyota returned to the fundamental principles of “The Toyota Way” to critique, understand, and improve the company.
In the context of this post and lean leadership, I am pleased to learn of another new book “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” by Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis. As Toyota continues to evolve while remaining true to the principles of The Toyota Way, we realize again that lean is not a short-term prescription to success but a journey. My simplified definition of Lean Thinking follows:
“Lean is the pursuit of perfection and pure value through the relentless elimination of waste.”
As every lean practitioner will (or should) tell you, the process begins by defining value. Many companies operate under the false pretense that they are already providing the value that customers want or need. As such, they attempt to improve existing products or services by either adding features or making them faster and cheaper. From the perspective of Lean Thinking, the “secret” to making real change begins by finding:
“… a mechanism for rethinking the value of their core products to their customers.”
Lean Thinking challenges us to consider the value our customers are demanding. Accordingly, we must ensure that our infrastructure, business practices, and methodologies deliver that value in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Only when we focus on value from a customer perspective can we offer a solution that truly meets the customers’ needs.
Apple is one such company that continues to redefine and improve its product offerings to the point of anticipating and creating needs that never before existed. Apple’s iPad is just one example of their unique approach to creating niche products and solutions to address speed, connectivity, portability, and features that we as customers never thought possible.
The Leadership Challenge
Leadership is challenged to define and deliver “value” to the customer in the most effective and efficient manner. This is not as simple as it sounds and having leaders within the company that understand Lean Thinking is a requisite mandate for any company wanting to compete in today’s global market. The challenge exists for leaders to adopt lean thinking to deliver real value at prices we can all afford.
Succession planning and training leaders for the future is an ongoing effort to assure continued sustainable success. Leadership is responsible for hiring the right people and to ensure they receive the training to do their jobs correctly. “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence Through Leadership Development” is sure to be a welcome addition to the library of true Lean Leaders and lean practitioners.
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Until Next Time – STAY lean!
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- #4 – Can You Avoid Lean Failure? (christianpaulsen62.wordpress.com)