Thursday, June 30, 2011

Leadership and a Lean Transformation

By Al Norval,

As I work with various organizations on their Lean transformation, it amazes me how many organizations start out believing that Lean is all about implementing a set of tools. They believe that if we only implement these tools, then we’ll be Lean. Often times, I see this develop into implementation lists and audits which check to see how well the tools have been implemented. Sometimes companies carry this one step forward to sending out “Corporate Auditors” with the goal of having a standard set of people to calibrate the audits so the audit scores are valid.

What these organizations miss is that only 10% of Lean is about the tools. The remaining 90% is about people and culture. It’s about engaging people at all levels of the organization to solve problems so that every day we get a little bit better and drive more value to our Customers.

What does this have to do with Leaders?

Tools can be managed but people need Leadership if they are going to change their behaviours and truly start to change the culture.

Leaders need to exhibit these new behaviours. This follows the old adage “What you do is what you get.” What Leaders do is amplified many times over in the organization. Small changes in Leadership behaviour can have an enormous impact on changes in Team Member behaviour in the Value Stream.

But how do Leaders know how to behave in a Lean world?

Their behaviour needs to be based on Lean Leadership Thinking which is based on Lean Mental Models. There are six primary Lean Mental Models:

- Leader as a Sensei

- Go to Gemba to see for yourself

- Problems are gold, make them visible

- Don’t pass junk down the Value Stream

- Simple, visual standards for all important things

- Everyone solves problems using simple methods

As Leaders begin to change their behaviours based on these Mental Models, the rest of the organization picks up on it and more and more people become engaged in solving problems to root cause rather developing work arounds. Business results start to accelerate and Lean becomes locked into the culture of the organization.

For more on Lean Leadership and Lean Mental Models, please see Lean Thinking and Lean Leadership Brain Boosters at


  1. I think Pascal has nailed this one. Too often we see people trying to delegate lean activities instead of following the mental models themselves. The folks on the floor often perceive this as apathy. Their mind set goes to "if they don't care... why should I" Leaders have more power to affect perception than they know in many cases. Following the mental models is key at every level.

  2. Absolutely Denis! How Leaders behave is watched by everyone and ripples through the organization. Behavior is based on our Mental models so changin ghtose is a key piece of a Lean Transformation