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Successfully implementing lean principles within a corporation requires distinct contributions from top-level, middle-level and front-line employees, says Mike Loughrin of Transformance Advisors.
The challenge at the executive level is to know when to step in and help and when to stay out and let small teams work through the lean process and resulting cultural change, Loughrin says. An executive sponsor should make sure the project is defined correctly in terms of scope and goals and ensure that adequate resources are devoted to training and tools. Support should be demonstrated by having an executive at the kick-off and at occasional kaizen events. Otherwise, Loughrin says, executives should focus on the file milestones laid out in lean principles. "These milestones are a good time for the executive team to sit down and review what has been accomplished and to ask a lot of questions," he says.
Middle management must deal with the skepticism of co-workers who may have gone through several similar strategies in the past, Loughrin says. Middle management has to get on board and then persuade others, "moving from a command-and-control mentality to more of a coaching mentality," says Loughrin.
Middle managers also help prioritize areas of focus for the project. "Lean projects are not simply turning everybody loose in an organization to do some sort of process improvement. It is typically a structured approach, where teams are pulled together to work on priority items. Identifying those areas for improvement is where middle management can help," he says.
For the front-line employee, the biggest challenge is deciding to invest in the program, says Loughrin. "Employees hear this big announcement and they wonder if it is real or just a cost and headcount reduction, especially if the company has a history of such programs." If they are convinced it is real, then they need to ask where they can help within their area of control, he says.
The other challenge for front-line employees is in following through. "There typically are a lot of activities that can be done quickly and with great benefits. Front-line people tend to get excited about these but lose interest in the follow-through," says Loughrin. This phase is critical to long-term success because it is where workers tie up loose ends, document new procedures and put an audit program in place so that the gains are not lost, he says.
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