Lean Transformations Group

Leaders’ Actions Speak But Their Talk Matters

Many organizations are investing in lean continuous improvement programs, systems and staff.  The aim for most is to transform to a culture where employees are engaged in problem solving at the work flow level.  However, there are frequently critical pieces missing in these initiatives. Such critical aspects include defining a new role for managers asked to lead in a continuous improvement culture or helping managers develop the skills and habits needed to be effective leaders in the new environment.

The traditional ideas about the role of managers are based on assumptions about their position, function and experience.  The traditional manager is expected to have more knowledge of the business information and insight into working of the organization and operation than his or her employees. That leads to the related expectation that the manager is the best position to solve problems, decide improvements and drive results.  It is also the basis for the assumption that managers should tell employees what to think, direct their activities and coach by feedback and correction.

Such assumptions and behaviors were more effective when operations were simpler, change was less frequent and there was less information to be processed and managed.  They do not work as well when the aim is to engage employees in sharing what they know about problems and using what they know to think of and execute solutions and improvements.

Employees have to believe they are safe in pointing out problems, allowed offer their ideas for solutions and improvements, and capable of the thinking required for the problem solving responsibilities they are being asked to assume. The dilemma is that the behaviors of traditional management do not communicate any of these beliefs or help create the kind of environment invites or supports employee responsibility or initiative.

Most lean/ci programs do not offer managers and leaders help in recognizing that the ways they have always been rewarded for thinking and acting do not serve the new business priority of employee engagement in problem solving responsibility. And managers are seldom supported in changing to more supportive and effective behaviors.  For example manager standard work programs often focus on getting leaders to go to the work site but not stress how they should act and talk when they get there.

This session is intended to offer lean/ci leaders, coordinators, coaches and consultants help in filling that gap. It will show how many of the underlying assumptions about management in the traditional model lead to leader attitudes and behaviors that are barriers to engaging employees. Then two small but effective changes leaders can make in the way they speak and relate to employees will be suggested. And a tool for demonstrating to managers the unintended impact of their current habits in talking to employees will be shared for discussion and practice.

The challenges managers face in making the transition from traditions managers to continuous improvement leaders are many and huge. The purpose of this session is to bring those challenges into open and suggest a way organizations can begin to address them.


This training is created and facilitated by LTG Partner, David Verble.

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