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Small Town Preacher


I grew up in a very small town in the North Shore of Massachusetts. Everybody knew everybody.

If I tried to get away with anything, someone would always rat me out to my parents.  Somehow, however, I managed to have my fair share of experiences.   Like many small towns “back in those days” there were characters and there was a character in my little town who every Saturday morning would stand on a big rock on the hill overlooking our very small downtown and preach fire and brimstone and the end of the world.  He was harmless, somewhat entertaining, and unfortunately the target of pranks and ridicule from a handful of mean-spirited people. Recently I was reminded that, like our town preacher, it is very difficult to preach and proclaim your message and get anybody to accept or “buy-in”.  It’s a special talent that few possess and very few possess in the lean community. In the book, Hitchhikers Guide to Lean, co-authored by myself and Jamie Flinchbaugh, we discuss one of the 5 leadership moves of proclamation versus participation. Buy-in doesn’t come from preaching or proclaiming the need or benefit of lean; it can come from exhibiting the behaviors that support the need and benefit of lean.

I recently spent some time visiting with a client working with their lean coaches and heard almost unanimously that they were having difficulty getting leadership to accept what they or their groups should be doing next to advance lean. This is not some company just getting started.  This is a company that has made great gains in their lean effort and still struggle with leadership participation. It struck me that we missed one part of the equation. If proclamation (preaching) isn’t enough, and participation is required, then how do we get participation?  Obviously can’t preach the need to participate. Seems like somewhat of conundrum but there is an answer—build the value proposition.

It’s a 3 step process and no step can be skipped if there is any chance for success.  Step #1– INQUIRY. Craft a set of questions that will elicit what the individual or audience values.  Maybe it’s what causes them pain each day or challenges their ability to meet their goals. Put the time and effort into crafting and writing this set of questions.  You’ll likely have to wing-it a bit once you get into this exercise but remember there is one rule that you do not violate.  You ask questions and listen ONLY.  You never provide your opinion or position.  You are on a fact-finding mission.  Step 2–VALIDATION.  Revisit the individual or audience again and confirm with them your understanding of what you heard from the initial visit.  Don’t leave until they are convinced that you understood. Now you will be working together with a common purpose, and more importantly, a purpose that is valuable to them. Step #3—ADVOCATE.  Visit again and now you can provide the insights, suggestions, or advice that directly addresses what they value.  This is a powerful and highly effective means to get the buy-in, get the participation. If this seems to you to be time consuming and a lot of work, it is.  There are no shortcuts but return on your investment will be well worth the effort.



  1. Hi Andy

    You have hit a nail on the head doing things the right way is hard work, and does take some time and effort, but it is not all that complicated. In the end spending the time to achieve a sustainable solutions may take a little longer than the quick fix, but it will last while if you use the quick fix you will be back regularly fixing the same problems over and over again, which in the end will add up to far more total time than having done it properly the first time.

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