When the Lean Leader Desires to Becomes the Coach

I had an AMAZING experience with a client recently. I often share with people that I love lean transformations for a number of reasons, but I am most motivated when people experience an AHA moment.

I had been asking my client to stop calling their production reporting morning meetings a gemba walk. Well needless to say, they continued to call them gemba walks until last week. I decided that I would incorporate a team gemba walk during my visits to begin to coach them instead of just with the managers. My objective was for them to learn by doing. A long time ago, I decided that I was not going to be in the business of convincing by discussing theory, and opinions. I thank Mr. Yamada, my sensei for that lesson.

Last week, the operations manager asked that I genba again with him separate and apart from the group. I could sense that he was frustrated. As we started in the first area, the point closest to the final customer, the shipping dock, I asked him if he understand the target condition for the day. I engaged in a number of questions about the business, such as, what needs to ship today? what is the likelihood that it will ship on-time? What is the revenue impact for anything that will not ship today? and lastly what impact will the missed shipments have on your customer? It would have required a lot of digging in computer systems to answer the questions. The information was not on the production reporting board. Nor did the shipping area have good visual management indicators of the status. I wrote a recent blog entitled, The Gemba Speaks, If You Listen.  The Gemba was not speaking to us. After reaching the second stop, the pacemaker prior to shipping, he said, “WOW, what we are doing is NOT a gemba walk.”

There are several lessons from this story, however, I only want to focus on three:

The first one is to remember that coaching is a process. In my younger lean days, I felt the need to convince people about certain lean tools. I’ve since learned that when it comes to lean prinicples, people learn better when you lead them to discover what you want them learn. Please understand that I had asked more than once for them to stop referencing their morning market review as a gemba walk. Yet on this day, coupled with his frustrations, he learned.

In a lean transformation, your responsibilities for becoming a coach requires patience. I’m certain that you can relate to the above mentioned manager’s frustration. His traditional management approach would have commanded answers. Yet, through the process of coaching, he was able to understand the questions he needs to be asking his direct reports. And he was able to understand the relevant information that needed to be visible about the process and production status. Patience is  also required because you can not expect people to all of a sudden have the answers to your new line of questioning. The questions really should be Socratic and therefore the answer is not as important as understanding the thinking. Furthermore, you need to be patience with your people. Be cognizant of putting them on the spot, or expecting and immediate correct answers, but rather focus on helping them to understand the learning together. It is simply a matter of understanding what makes sense.

The third lesson is to allow development time to transition to this new approach to gemba and coaching. I presented the manager with the first two kata questions during our walk. However, later, I gave him all five, but asked that he only focus on the first two or three. During our check-in call this week, he confessed that he tried to get to all five questions and was only successful once. He now realizes it takes a lot of time to get through the questions to get to deep understanding. I recommended that at minimum, he allow 30 days of just focusing on the first two or three. There is a tremendous change management aspect at play, that requires great nurturing and care. And as a manager with a new found discovery, it can overwhelm you and the organization.

Thanks for listening! I hope this was helpful and insightful. Check out next week’s blog post for part II of this amazing learning experience.

Hi, I’m Crystal Davis! I am passionate about lean transformations, and intentional leadership. I have 17 years of experience in lean consulting and practice. I’ve been exposed to wonderful Toyota sensei coaches and amazingly radical breakthroughs. My mission is to help leaders to succeed at lean, develop the awesome talent in their organizations and to make their companies stronger. 

One Comment

  1. Susan Clapham says
    October 23, 2015 8:40 am

    Good perspective, Crystal. Hope you’re well. We should reconnect at some point. I hope you’re well

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