Business progress still hinges on lean teams

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Matt van Wyk Matt van Wyk is as­so­ciate di­rec­tor for MAC

FOR many or­gan­i­sa­tions, ex­pe­ri­ence has taught them that even when best business prac­tices are em­ployed one can­not be com­fort­able in the front seat. Con­tin­u­ous or­gan­i­sa­tional im­prove­ment, most times do­ing more with less, is there­fore not only a business im­per­a­tive but a ne­ces­sity to be com­pet­i­tive, sus­tain­able and lean.

Lead­ers in lean or­gan­i­sa­tions need to re­lent­lessly drive con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment and trans­for­ma­tion within or­gan­i­sa­tions, di­rected by com­mit­ted, rou­tine and at­ten­tive lead­er­ship. This was the fo­cus at the sev­enth Lean Sum­mit Africa, a con­fer­ence de­signed for se­nior and mid-level man­agers who want to as­pire to­wards Lean Lead­er­ship – more proac­tive, pur­pose­ful lead­er­ship in their or­gan­i­sa­tions. Lean ap­plies to ev­ery business and ev­ery process, it is a way of think­ing and act­ing for an en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Man­age­ment con­sul­tants are of­ten tasked with bring­ing about this change – re­align­ment of strate­gic di­rec­tion, de­sign and de­ploy­ment of a per­for­mance score­card, as­sist­ing with in­sourc­ing and out­sourc­ing de­ci­sions, tweak­ing or­gan­i­sa­tional de­sign to im­prove per­for­mance or mak­ing the pro­duc­tion en­gine more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive.

The decision to bring in man­age­ment con­sult­ing ex­per­tise is of­ten ne­ces­si­tated by an un­known or in­vis­i­ble prob­lem which has caused a de­cline in com­pet­i­tive­ness or mar­ket po­si­tion; or an in­crease of un­happy stake­hold­ers, clients and cus­tomers.

So what has hap­pened at th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions? De­spite great sys­tems, strate­gies and pro­cesses; what sits be­hind the need to im­prove? Have things sud­denly gone back­wards or does the need to be­come bet­ter at de­liv­ery re­quire a to­tal re­vamp of the or­gan­i­sa­tional de­sign?

Although many rea­sons ex­ist, it is in­evitable that the common prob­lem will of­ten be the in­abil­ity to en­gage the heads, hands and hearts of the peo­ple who make the or­gan­i­sa­tion work – those in­di­vid­u­als at the front line of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Ul­ti­mately, th­ese are the peo­ple who will run and im­prove pro­cesses.

Three global bench­mark as­sess­ments that MAC Con­sult­ing has been in­volved in over the last two years have proven that, although the strate­gies and method­olo­gies re­quired to en­able th­ese ba­sic prac­tices were known to the lead­er­ship and of­ten of the high­est qual­ity, they were not in place. This dis­con­nects the man­age­ment and front line of the business which neg­a­tively im­pacts morale, costs, qual­ity, de­liv­ery and safety per­for­mance.

There are three fun­da­men­tals to this prob­lem:

Lead­er­ship and the abil­ity to af­fect change: En­sur­ing that mes­sages from the minds of the man­agers get to the hands of the work­ers on the front line takes a lot of ef­fort – e-mails, printed posters, dis­cus­sions in meet­ings, town hall meet­ings. How­ever, the ques­tion should be how to get to the mes­sages from the minds of the front-line work­ers to the hands of the man­agers. It of­ten means that man­agers must get out of their of­fices in or­der to see with their feet and touch the work with their eyes.

Visual Man­age­ment: It is almost im­pos­si­ble to man­age some­thing you can­not see. Ex­pec­ta­tions must be known, mea­sured and acted on to run and im­prove pro­cesses op­ti­mally. Front-line teams can­not de­liver with­out a clear idea of what is ex­pected of them, goals agreed and mea­sures to show them if they are on the right track. This lack of di­rec­tion can dis­em­power up to 80 per­cent of the work­force, and load all the re­spon­si­bil­ity on to the shoul­ders of man­age­ment.

Team­work: De­part­ments and func­tions that do not talk to, or support, each other to achieve a common goal will be de­struc­tive. Un­for­tu­nately, mea­sure­ment and re­ward sys­tems of­ten drive the wrong be­hav­iour by re­ward­ing the in­di­vid­ual. In this way, the he­roes take all the glory and de­stroy the sys­tem.

To get this right the im­por­tance of the team must trump the im­por­tance of the in­di­vid­ual. Give the teams the power and in­cen­tivise them to work to­gether.

Th­ese three fun­da­men­tal items are as elu­sive to­day as when they were 50 years ago. Although the sci­ence of lead­er­ship has evolved, or­gan­i­sa­tions around the world still bat­tle to un­lock their true po­ten­tial. It is im­por­tant not to un­der­es­ti­mate how hard it will be to change lead­er­ship be­hav­iour so that the fun­da­men­tal ba­sics to im­prove are recog­nised. Hard work will en­sure you reap the re­wards of be­ing lean.

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