Company Leadership

Leadership behaviour is an underestimated component of lean management. Many companies focus their lean activities on achieving “good” results through improved processes (e.g. assembly lines in one-piece flow, milk runs, Kanban cycles or SMED workshops to reduce set-up times). But what happens after the project or the workshops? According to studies, only about 20% of all companies manage to maintain the increased efficiency.

A major reason for this is that the workshops were temporary improvement activities, but the improved processes require increased attention and support, especially in everyday working life, in order to maintain or achieve performance.

The implementation of the open points in the action plan is quickly delayed due to the increased pressure in everyday working life. In addition, the independent, further improvement of the process is rarely the reality. But isn’t that exactly what Toyota understands by Kaizen, or Continuous Improver?

Lean tools and the implementation procedure

In this context, the question also arises as to whether the lean and shop floor management trainings conducted as part of the projects have helped managers to find their role in everyday working life. The responsible employees and managers take part in Lean Basics trainings and receive comprehensive information about Lean principles, Lean tools and the implementation procedure. But do managers really need this knowledge to successfully manage their day-to-day work? Even if the contents are certainly interesting, the added value of these trainings is rather limited!

Excluded from this are the contents of shop floor management, which have a direct connection to the everyday work of employees and managers. But even if the shop floor management takes place consistently and consistently, the value streams are by no means aligned to future requirements.

Motivation of the employees

I don’t know how you feel, but I find the “saving” of day-to-day business and the constant firefighting very annoying. However, for the majority of managers it is part of their everyday lives to constantly run after problems, to set all possible levers in motion in order to be able to deliver the customer order or keep the delivery date. If the problems also occur again and again, this is a clear sign that the interfaces or value streams have serious problems. Solving the interface problems seems to be a real Herculean task.

If the management comes at this time additionally still with a new project or new goals, the pressure increases with all involved ones still further. The impression quickly arises that there is no way out. This is the point at which the talks about “a new sow being driven through the village” begin, some managers “disappear” and the first employees – unfortunately they are often the good ones – quit. Not to mention the motivation of the employees and an attractive employer.

Problems of this kind are not solved at the level at which they arise. Let’s look at three hard influences or starting points to get these problems under control:

Focusing processes

Linking the objectives with the relevant core processes/value streams

Establishment of improvement and leadership competence among managers

The “better” or more efficient the processes are, the greater the proportion of problems that lie in the coordination of the interfaces. An example of this is chronic material demolition in final assembly. This is caused by the delivery behavior of logistics. This must adapt to the requirements of the assembly with regard to the delivery quantity and time (requirements that can change hourly).

However, logistics may not be able to deliver in a more customer-focused way, as the warehouse or production has different priorities. They have optimized their processes so that they are “optimal” for the department. This is reflected, for example, in the large batch sizes. However, in order to synchronize the processes across departments, it is necessary to consider the value streams, not the individual processes.

Continual focus of entrepreneurial actions

Ultimately, the increase in added value for the customer is the focus of entrepreneurial action, and thus also of all managers. If it is not possible to anchor improvement in the day-to-day work of managers, management should not be surprised that the challenges of the company are not met. If the responsibility for achieving the productivity and lead time goals lies with the managers, it should be a deep interest of every manager and management to anchor the ability and motivation of the participants to achieve these goals!

This is exactly what Toyota has been actively practicing for 60 years with so-called Kaizen. Continuous improvement means improving processes on a daily basis, through the responsible managers and in their own area of responsibility and in the direction of the overriding corporate goals.

Participation of managers

In order to make improvement and management of improvement the norm, i.e. the everyday work of managers, managers in all areas must participate. In this way, a whole “army” of people is created who actively work on the overriding corporate goals – day after day! However, this requires a simple, pragmatic and universal approach that can be applied across all areas of the company and at all hierarchical levels. The Toyota-Kata is a common approach from practice (read more about the Toyota-Kata HERE).

Changing leadership behaviour in the context of lean management or daily improvement is no easy task. It is important that Kata is not seen as a new method of improvement, but as a management system that spans hierarchical levels and in which all managers actively participate. However, once work with the Toyota Kata has been extended from its initial nucleus to other areas of the company, a new management culture is gradually being developed. A culture that focuses on daily improvement and successful work towards corporate goals!

Achievement of the company goals across levels

The bracket for the fact that an active contribution to the achievement of the company goals is made across departmental and hierarchical levels is the orientation of the company. In the best case, the alignment is based on a clear strategy and concrete goals in the 3 to 5 year horizon.

The more innovation goals belong to the challenge of the enterprise, the less price war and increasing competitors belong to the basic conditions of the enterprise. These goals must be linked to the relevant value streams, and derived logically along the management hierarchy to the level of the process (e.g. final assembly line for cordless screwdrivers).

In this way, a target cascade is created that is linked to the processes. This creates a sense of improvement and the need for managers at higher hierarchical levels to lead improvement activities.