Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is Upper Management Support Enough?

Ask all the experts what is critical to a successful lean transformation and one item always surfaces to the top of the list, must have Upper Management support. This sounds like a reasonable and logical requirement but is Upper Management support enough?

No, I’m not asking if you need other items like solid training, good communication, competent teachers, value stream maps, a designated Lean Champion, or even a KPO (Kaizen Promotion Office). What I’m asking is aimed at the role of our Upper Management in a lean transformation. Is support all that Upper Management needs to give of themselves in our successful lean transformation recipe?

I guess that depends on our operational definition of “support”. If support means giving a speech/email/voicemail to state that “I support kaizen efforts”, or mentioning in the company’s annual report that we are using lean manufacturing principles to meet our competitive challenges, or just signing off for funds to aid kaizen efforts, then “support” is not enough.

In my experience, we need more that just support from our Upper Management for a successful lean transformation. What we need is active participation; we need our Upper Management to “Lead By Example”.

How can we expect all our employees to embrace lean if our Upper Management does not embrace lean?

Here are just a few examples of the type of “Lead By Example” behaviors that any Company Leader can do, should do, must do:

1. Use your office as a shining example of organization in 5S.
2. Eliminate office waste. For example, personally commit yourself to be on-time for all meetings, 100% of the time. Your employees will follow!
3. As you walk through your office/plant/warehouse, always pick up any trash in your path. Don’t step over it.
4. Add the responsibility of ownership in a 5S zone and regularly completing a cleaning assignment.
5. Exceed any employee individual goals or expectations. For example, if you set the expectation that every employee should provide two simple kaizen ideas per month, then you will provide 3 or more each month, without fail.
6. When reviewing kaizen efforts, don’t single out just the large dollar saving ideas or consistently focus on the dollars saved. Promote the number of ideas generated or the speed at which we implement the improvements.
7. Learn enough on any lean principle or tool to personally teach a class on the topic to your employees. Then teach it!

The Bottom line, Executive Summary and Elevator Speech:
Success in lean transformation is dependant on our Upper Management going beyond just support to actively participating in improvement efforts. Upper Management must Lead By Example.


Ron Pereira said...

I remember your post from your Kaikaku trip to Japan about the President who did "3S" every morning with his people. I think you had a picture of the guy on his knees scrubbing the floor. I am convinced the West will never, and I repeat never, catch Japan until we humble ourselves a bit and get on our hands and knees and clean the floor. I must look at myself first. When was the last time I did this at work? A long time ago is the honest answer.

Curious Cat said...

I agree. And I think the main reason "support" is not enough is that without actively participating in the efforts they won't really understand what is most important. Only by being actively involved in efforts can they truly understand. There ability to lead will improve as they learn from active participation.

Anonymous said...


Few months ago I was in Japan (Fukui) and I noticed two pupils outside the school's main door, sweeping the floor. I asked whether they were punished. My wife told me that that was part of their education.

I guess in US a school would get sued by the parents if pupils were asked to sweep the floor.


Todd said...


I have seen the affects of "support" promised by upper management when they commit to the lean transformation, but do not show it. We've recently experienced a lot of turnover at the top of our organization and the incoming individuals immediately demonstrated their true committment to continuous improvement by participating in kaizen. The contrast is very apparent and the results have already proven themselves.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Mike, although I have a personal problem with my office space.

I was at a client's factory and I noticed that some back stairs and a mezannine area had not been cleaned. I found the Maintenance Supervisor and asked if he could get them cleaned. "Why?" he asked. "They are messy and everyone can see that they don't meet the 5S standard." I answered. His response, "I left them like that to see if management was going to carry through on their pledge to keep the place clean." Employees are always testing, just like your children. We need to stay consistent.