Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lean Leadership Excuse #1

By Al Norval

As I deal with organizations in the midst of implementing Lean, I here many versions on a theme around lack of leadership commitment. When I ask what does leadership commitment look like, invariably the reply is “Leaders need to be visible at Gemba involved in the improvement work”.

So, I’ve asked many Leaders why is it they can’t spend more time at Gemba? I’m assuming they know what to do when they go to the Gemba which most of them do. That is, they would go to Gemba with the purpose of:

  1. Go See
  2. Ask Why?
  3. Show Respect for Team Members

Most Leaders know what to do at Gemba and know that it’s an important thing for them to do but still don’t go. When I ask them why, I get the following response:

“I don’t have time”

Leaders don’t have time to go and seek to understand what is really happening, to see problems, to teach their people and to build the capability of the organization. So what do they have time for? E-mail, meetings, re-work and generating reports but they don’t have time for some of the most important work they need to do as leaders.

When I probe deeper and ask why, it usually comes down to leaders spending their time doing urgent work rather than important work.

Copyright to Steven Covey from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Work can be broken down to four quadrants using a simple two by two matrix with Importance of the work on one side and Urgency on the other axis.

Leaders spend too much time on Urgent but Not Important work and not enough time on Non-Urgent but Important work. How do correct this? It starts by having the discipline to load up your calendar with Important but Not Urgent work first and then sticking to it and measuring it. You may not meet your calendar 100% of the time but by applying the PDCA cycle to it, the percentages will go up over time. The best part is it becomes a benevolent cycle since the more time leaders spend at Gemba teaching, the more problems are solved, the fewer urgent issues to deal with and the more time to spend at Gemba.

Key is to start by locking out a small amount of time every day and growing it from there. Take the challenge and block out 15 minutes a day to start and see how quickly that time makes a difference in your organization.



  1. I'm sensing a pattern here!

  2. Absolutely Tom! "I don't have time" is a popular excuse. Great leaders make time to do the things necessary to move the ball dow the field and don't waste time on the trivial many things that distract them from that.

  3. Hi guys!

    Don´t you think that the "I don´t have time" excuse is also a way that managers found to play the heroes´ role?

    I´ve heard many times: "I do not even have time to solve my daily problems! How do you expect me to develop my people?"



  4. Yes! There is a certain adreneline rush from being a firefighter and jumping in fight the fire and save the day.
    Some people foster this kind of culture. Our role in Lean is to change the culture of the organization so we solve problems and reduce the fenzy. It just takes a bit of time every day.