I attended a conference this week where academics from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and other countries addressed thorny theological issues within a lively and growing church movement. I was there to support my son who was one of the organizers. Most of the sessions were way over my head, and included lots of very long words :-)) * But the Saturday morning session relating to “Multi-Ethnic Church” issues struck a LEAN CHORD with me.
Lean discussion groups are often populated with blogs and comments bemoaning the fact that most companies largely fail at making significant lean change. One of the common responses is the need for the executive leadership to be fully committed and knowledgeable. Many company leadership teams have taken this very seriously and have made strides to approach lean strategically.
What I learned at the conference was this; real lasting change requires active alignment of the leaders at every level.
The multi-ethnic church research was presented by an experienced professor. She has researched a number of U.S. churches with specific multi-ethnic strategies. She reported that the church senior leaders always have clear alignment with their strategy and policies. But the local pastors and other church workers surveyed show less than 30% alignment. The local people are of course at the front end of these much needed changes and, while they are fully on-board with the desired results, they do not have the band-width of time, understanding, and expertise to effectively make and sustain these crucial changes.
These same issues are rampant among lean manufacturers, healthcare organizations, construction companies, and many others pursuing radical lean improvement. These companies often have well thought-out lean strategies replete with X-Charts, A3’s, training programs, and initiatives that are driven down from corporate through to the groups, divisions, and plants. The local leaders are trained in lean tools and methods, but often they do not have the skills or the time to change the fundamental culture of their local operations. Similarly, the lean changes are often restricted to the primary operations so that sales & marketing, product development, finance and accounting, etc. are not aligned or involved.
What is the solution? The professor explained that policies and training are not enough to change paradigms. She also recognized that these changes are not easy. There needs to be a lot of small group interaction. Cross cultural meetings. Deliberate building of multi-ethnic teams. Leveraging current success even when it’s nascent. Adjusting the approach to local situations. And – most importantly – local leaders having personal ownership, clear but flexible plans, and the time available to nurture the changes. It’s a messy business. It’s long term. It’s challenging; and it requires skill and patience.
Many companies just load their local people with more and more “programs”. These programs are often top-down initiatives. Most people recognize that for a local plant or division to have successful lean transformation there must be changes to the business culture. (New wine can not be stored in old wine skins).This includes such issues as measurements and their frequency, how people’s work-time is assigned, the role and behaviors of local leadership (as well as corporate leaders), new financial management, organization around value streams, active empowerment in every area of the work, and a clear change of focus toward the customer. Also needed is a “let’s go do it” atmosphere where people feel safe to make changes, experiment, review success and failure, change course, and learn from each other.
This kind of change can only be fully achieved when the local leaders have the authority and ability to shed the traditional thinking and develop new, lean ways of working. These are not slogans on powerpoints. They are real daily changes in what we do and how we work. Like the churches seeking ethnic harmony, a well-meaning, top-down strategy will only be successful when the local leaders are aligned through the training, the tools, the time; and undivided focus to make it happen day by day.
I like the phrase a “Living Daily Practical Alignment to Lean Strategy and Action”. It’s a mouthful, but it does recognize that everyone has a part to play, and the work of lean transformation is done every day by every body. It’s a human process. It’s messy. It has it’s victories and it’s dismal failures; but out of both comes the knowledge needed to turn your piece of the company into a powerhouse of customer value and profitability.
* The Hermaneutics of Relational Eschatological Anthropology. Mmmmm.