Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lean Leadership for People Powered Excellence

I just returned from the 2014 AME International Lean Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The conference tagline was “Strategic Success through People Powered Excellence.” Implied in this tagline is the fact that “people powered excellence” is only possible if leaders lead differently. Therefore strategic success is not attained by conducting leadership strategy sessions and hoisin planning but clearly through the leadership of people.

This annual conference was a jam packed event that spanned 4-1/2 days. A client who works in the construction industry, and was attending his first AME conference, noted that in his eyes this was not a lean conference but rather a leadership conference. He and most attendees were exposed to keynotes and presenters who delivered the message that it requires focused, caring leaders who are willing to spend the time and energy required to engage and empower their people if lean is to be successful.

Here were some of my learning experiences.

• People don’t leave companies – they leave leaders. This was stated by one of conference keynotes – Simon Sinek. I couldn’t agree more. One of the individuals who attended my Monday full day Lean Safety workshop, “The Safe Path to Lean”, shared their frustration with one of her company’s leaders. She was an EHS professional who was passionate about her role and the people who worked in her facility – someone I would consider a model employee. Youthful, energetic and ready to change the world if management would just get out of her way. Instead she has a manger that is living in the past and believes in controlling people and breeding distrust. If the situation doesn’t change she will leave this leader and take her many talents to a new company where she will be fully valued. If you have not heard Simon Sinek’s message about leadership I highly recommend you check it out. He was one of the best keynotes I have ever seen. You can either read his latest book titled “Leaders Eat Last” or watch this 2014 TED talk.

• All of us can lead. At the end of a presentation I struck up a conversation with an individual sitting at my table - a nurse from Canada. She shared with me her efforts to reduce the cycle time of a visit to an emergency room for treatment. This is one of my hot buttons and an example I use in my workshops when discussing value added time versus non-value added time in the total cycle time of any process. If you, like me, have ever been to an emergency room for treatment you understand my frustration. My last visit resulted in a total cycle time of over three hours with the valued added time (when I was being treated) totaling about 10 minutes. She noted that in the Canadian Healthcare system the wait averaged six hours before you had contact with a doctor. They have now reduced that to four hours and are administering basics medical tests while the patient waits. She talked with passion about her ongoing efforts to drive the wait time down even further. She reinforced the fact that any of us, when empowered by leadership, can lead lean.

• Teamwork still works. A former AME colleague, who pasted away a few years ago, would have been bursting with pride if she had been able to attend a session presented by her employees. She was a passionate leader who helped to define “people centric leadership.” After purchasing this company with a partner she began the arduous journey of redirecting a top down directive company culture to one where employees are valued, engaged and empowered. My how far they have come. To build upon what she had started, over the past few years the employees have been organized and developed into high performance work teams. The presenters in this session were not managers but instead hourly workers who now own their piece of the business. They spoke with passion and ownership and were a great example of what can happen in any business if managers learn to trust and empower their employees.

I was the volunteer marketing chair for this conference. For over two years I had the opportunity to work with a team of passionate volunteers to plan and then execute the largest and best lean conference I have ever attended. It will happen again next October when the conference will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio. Below is a link to the conference website. I will be disappointed if you are not there.

My next book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change, will be released early in December. It contains 20 case studies based on my experiences over the last four years. It can be pre-ordered from the publisher, Productivity Press, or at Amazon Books.

Stay safe!