Six Foundational Capabilities for Leadership in a Lean Transformation

One of the most important parts of a Lean or Operational Excellence business transformation is the implementation of an aggressive continuous improvement system and culture.  This requires a series of critically important management capabilities that, in theory, may seem obvious and simple, but too few organizations are truly effective at applying these skills in a rigorous and consistent way across the breadth and depth of their management team.

These critical management capabilities form the backbone of management’s responsibility to execute their organization’s Daily Management and continuous process improvement systems.

Lean and Operational Excellence Champions must develop capabilities in coaching and developing management to learn and apply these capabilities effectively with superior results.  Management teams with only moderate knowledge and capability in these areas will deliver only mediocre daily performance and improvement results compared to the potential that exists in their organization.

The following provides a brief description of each capability:

Setting performance expectations and process standards: Management must be capable of setting clear performance expectations with their team members regarding time, quality, output, safety, and other performance targets critical to and aligned with the business.  Setting process standards defines how team members must perform their work to consistently achieve the performance objectives in a safe, effective and efficient manner.

Supporting others in the implementation and execution of processes: This requires managers to provide day-to-day general management support beyond the five other capabilities listed here, to include providing subject matter expertise and rolling up their sleeves to help the team.

Measuring performance and seeing waste: Managers must design a performance measurement system and effectively measure the team’s performance against their targets.  Performance results need to be clear, visual and as real time as possible to enable immediate identification of both good and poor performance.  Effective performance measurement systems help managers quickly identify waste.  However, managers must also learn to see the myriad of waste within processes through careful observation.

Holding people accountable and taking action: As with most any management system, driving clear and consistent accountability is critical.  People need to know and understand that they will be held accountable in a fair and consistent way.  They need to be reminded of their roles, responsibilities, performance expectations and consequences of good or bad performance.  Managers must learn to deliver the message of accountability, as well as take the necessary and sometimes difficult actions to drive and implement it on a daily basis.

Coaching and developing others: It’s critical that managers learn how to effectively transfer knowledge and skills to their team members.  They need to learn how to educate a team member in the use of a process or tool, then ask them to demonstrate their new knowledge by directly applying it.  During that time, coaching continues by asking questions to help the team member realize whether they are doing the task correctly and/or what they must change to correct it.

Solving problems and continuous improvement: Managers must learn how to apply and develop their team in effective problem solving and continuous improvement skills.  Team members should see their managers as a subject matter expert to help them resolve difficult problems.  Managers should also be skilled in leading small to moderate sized continuous improvement projects to resolve larger scale issues.

Managers must develop their knowledge, skill and capabilities in these six areas to ensure the viability and success of daily management and continuous improvement systems.  Without these capabilities, Lean Teams and Champions will struggle to drive and maintain high-impact results across the enterprise.  Ask yourself the challenging question: How does our management team perform relative to these six categories?  If you can’t answer positively, you may want to take a step back and address the gaps in these foundational capabilities.

About the AuthorDavid Dubinsky is the President and Founder of Op-Excellence, a management consulting and coaching firm dedicated to helping clients transform their businesses via Lean and Operational Excellence solutions.


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