Leading Lean with Purpose
I’m currently working with an organization on policy deployment and was reminded of an experience some years ago. I was meeting with a good friend who I consider to be one of the best manufacturing leaders I have ever known, and I’ve known a lot. We were walking the plant, and as I usually do, I stopped to chat with a shop floor employee. He worked in the sanitation department and was at the time sweeping the floor in the plant. I casually asked him if he knew how what he was doing contributed to the goals and objectives of the plant. He glared at me and said, “of course I do and why was I asking such a stupid question”. He then went on to explain how every action he was taking contributed to safety in the plant, employee morale and even minimizing product defects (contamination). I was both impressed and inspired. It recently struck me and reminded me while working with a client, that I had been trying to define the policy deployment “process” and not really defining the policy deployment “purpose”.
In the book “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”, co-authored with lean guru and friend Jamie Flinchbaugh, we explain that understanding and defining the purpose of what you are trying to achieve is necessary, critical and the 1st step toward choosing the appropriate tool or technique. There are many text book explanations of policy deployment, for example: Strategic planning sets the direction. Policy deployment is the means by which real, actionable goals cascade down throughout the organization. It is frequently supported by a series of matrices that break objectives into smaller and smaller targets. These goals ultimately drive the specific things that front line leaders do to help the company achieve its strategy. Thus, policy deployment (PD) is a means of making sure that everything the company does contributes to the master plan of the organization. Only in the last sentence does the definition reveal the purpose. Simply put, in an ideal world everyone knows and can explain how any of their actions directly contribute to the goals and objectives of the organization.
The focus of this blog is not pure policy deployment, which starts with the corporate strategy, but rather the tactics of policy deployment at a plant, a hospital, a bank, a retail outlet or any other tactical level of an organization, and is better defined as “the organic flow of information that runs through the organization with goals and objectives driven top down while results are returned from the bottom up.
So much of what I see on scoreboards or scorecards at every level of the organization are lagging indicators of results. We have all seen the safety cross on the shop floor scoreboard that at the end of a shift/day is color-coded green, yellow or red. Hopefully when there is a red there is also an obvious corrective action. Unfortunately, it’s too late. They are simply measuring a result and reacting to that result. Lagging measures/indicators are typically “output” and reaction oriented. Typically, you don’t have direct control and are difficult to influence. I’m not saying that lagging indicators/measures are not important, they are. You need to know the results and impact of your actions. However, effective policy deployment requires leading indicators/measures at every level of the organization. Leading indicators are typically “input” and action oriented and can be influenced. Simply put; lagging indicators analyze and report past performance, leading indicators influence future performance. The simplest and most common example is a weight loss goal. Standing on a scale and determining your weight is a lagging indicator. Easy to measure but you can’t do anything about it. Calories taken in and calories burned are leading indicators. More difficult to measure but actionable and can be influenced.
The DNA of policy deployment is leading indicators/measures at every level of the organization. This is easier said than done and my experience suggests that you’ll have to experiment before finding the appropriate indicators. Leading indicators are typically more difficult to identify and capture. They need to relate specifically to the work and process of the individuals and the area. As Jamie and I have often said, “you need to get to the bottom of the iceberg”.