Posted on April 17, 2014 · Posted in Uncategorized
A few weeks ago I told a colleague that I wouldn’t accept a contract for a Lean transformation comprised solely of Kaizen events.  At the end of our conversation, the colleague gently suggested that I “rethink that position.”  I knew they meant well, but in that instant I realized that we had very different expectations of Lean.
What I had been telling them was that Lean without leadership, i.e. Kaizen only, was a waste of the client’s money.  Why would I say that when Kaizens have the potential to do so much good and save so much money?  Why would I do it when I know that some organizations will look elsewhere for a consulting company that will do Kaizens only?
The answer begins with Toyota principle #1: “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.” 
I assure you that I’m not the least bit hesitant to conduct Kaizen events and save boatloads of money … but, Kaizens alone won’t transform anything for very long.  Whatever the event improves will slowly drift back to where it started, and that will leave a bitter taste in the client’s mouth.  So ask yourself, does it sound as if the Kaizen-only approach starts with a long-term philosophy?
The answer continues in stating that what does transform cultures is top-down leadership of the transformation.  Together these two components: Kaizen & Top-Down Leadership, make up the full transformational package.  Kaizen saves money; Top-Down Leadership makes it possible to sustain those gains and transform the organization into a body that will continue to make gains.
What do I mean by Top-Down Leadership?
It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Those in the top leadership positions will lead the transformation by first living Lean.  Once they’re living it, they get their subordinate leaders to live it.  In turn, the subordinate leaders will get their subordinates to live it, and so on, and so on, until all the leaders are of one mind and share common knowledge.  Just so you know, there is a specific methodology called Hoshin Kanri used to develop top-down leadership and it’s not at all hard.
Isn’t expecting top-down leadership a tall order?
Absolutely!  It’s why most stick with Kaizens and why few organizations achieve what they set out to achieve; or become what they have the potential to become.
Those reading who think all is lost, take heart.  Transforming is challenging, but not impossible.  In fact, the hardest thing for leaders to do is to accept the fact that they are going to have to personally change.  If you think you won’t save money until you’re fully transformed, fear not.  You’ll save it and, if you stay the course, you’ll save and make lots more.
Just understand that it will take time, but no more than if you take a Kaizen-only approach.  The difference in outcomes, however, will be huge.