Lean Strategies for Lean Leaders and Their Teams

by Melanie Beaumont

Building Lean Buy-In

Step 1: Discovery

It's not about you and your ideas; it's about them and their needs – your job is to bring them together

Know your audience very well – assess the business goals, needs, and priorities of those you are trying to persuade to come on side. Make sure you select the key benefits of Lean that address those particular goals, issues and needs.

Remember that people do things for their reasons not yours. Also be aware of the preferences that people have for styles of presentation and persuasion. Some people want facts and data, others want to see that the vision is well conceived. Some want to spend a lot of time going over the details and some will just want you to cut straight to the bottom line – "If we do this now, we will save $XX within this fiscal". If you have had mixed or even poor success at getting buy-in (from above, from peers, from your staff), chances are that you haven't done your homework and researched what their issues are. You may also have presented your case in a way suitable for you but not for others.

Make sure your style is a good fit for the way others work – this is particularly true when persuading up and across the organization. The key to good discovery is your ability to listen well. People will always tell you or signal their needs; it's up to you to make sure you hear them! When you match Lean benefits to both strategic and specific business needs you get sustainable buy-in.

Step 2: Stay Results Focused

Nothing beats proof!

There is a vast resource out there for you to tap into for Lean metrics, proven results, statistics, success stories, and bottom line performance improvement measures. Check the Internet, check your local bookstore, check with Lean associations in your area and, above all, go to see other companies farther down the Lean road than you are. Have this data available for your meetings and one-on-one discussion opportunities. There are people who like to see the raw data and talk about numbers, while others prefer to hear real stories from the shop, laboratory or office floor. Suit your presentation to their preferences – this cannot be said often enough! It is so easy to become a Lean enthusiast and forget that others need to come on board in their own ways and their own time.

Be patient, don't try to give someone all of the information in one fell swoop – pace yourself and adapt to the needs of others. Some will want a quick presentation and prefer to make equally quick decisions. Others will want some time to mull over the data, to think of what might happen during implementation. These people are extremely valuable once on board. They will have good questions that are often awkward. They can be the 'mistake proofers', thinking things through methodically to create more sustainable solutions. Just make sure you give them time to reflect and come back with their questions. Do not try to 'muscle' or force a decision before someone is ready.

Patience, not pressure, is your best friend in creating buy-in! Lean is all about 'pull' not 'push'. '.

Step 3: Use Tools That Really Help

And get advice when you need it

One of the most effective ways of getting buy-in is exposing people to Lean training. Bring your major players to one-day training sessions that will orient them to the Lean methodology. This approach often brings significant levels of buy-in. If you can swing it, get the key people you need on board to actually participate in the Enterprise Value Stream Mapping TM exercise for your initial value stream. This is a huge plus. These people will see the benefits first hand, in the context of their own operation. Anyone taking part in a VS exercise will see the waste, see its impact on operations, and also see the opportunities that Lean provides to remove that waste and yield substantial savings.

If you are having a real struggle trying to understand what people need to hear and how they need to hear it, consider working with an advisor using some behavioral and values assessment tools. These are quick, user friendly, group oriented tools that can save time and energy with key insights. They help working groups understand why someone can't seem to hear what you say when the same message seems to work just fine elsewhere.

Working on shared behaviors eliminates a lot of cultural waste caused by conflicts that come from misunderstanding the motivations of others. Joe or Sally may not be trying to sabotage your initiative; they may simply need to hear about it in a different way, one that has more meaning for them.

Sometimes getting help is the smartest thing you can do!

Step 4: Don't Be Distracted By the Resisters

Keep focused on the root causes of resistance – work with your change agents to get them resolved

It's easy as a Lean leader to spend most of your time worrying about, and working with, the resisters. The 'squeaky wheel' syndrome can catch us all. However, it's the people who say yes, the enablers and change agents that deserve the lion's share of your time. This is where you efforts at coaching, facilitating and supporting the work will have major impact.

Most resistance comes from competing priorities. Misaligned priorities can occur between management layers, departments and, of course, individuals. You could call these 'competing virtues'. People feel they have the right idea about what needs to be done and when. The issue is that this is rarely the same across the organization no matter how hard senior executives try to simplify and align strategic priorities (and that's another challenge and article all to itself!).

So, aside from resistance from the inevitable personal baggage that evolves in any organization, your key task will be dealing with people who say, "It's a great idea but we're too busy with these other priorities – we just don't have time."

There's no quick and easy way to resolve conflicting priorities. You will need to spend time negotiating solutions across management layers and between departments. You will need to get the support of your senior team. This is essential 'sweat equity' that you will have to put into successful Lean implementation and it's worth every drop of that sweat!

Step 5: Never Stop Reinforcing the Buy-In

Doubt and skepticism have a way of creeping back – "That was then, but what have you done for me today?"

Test for understanding and agreement on an ongoing basis. Make sure you continue to actively listen for any concerns or doubts about the Lean implementation as it goes forward. Work on these issues together and do not let them build into significant roadblocks by ignoring or dismissing them. Every concern you can successfully address, every concerned person who feels you really heard what they said, is a huge plus in building an ongoing committed Lean team across the enterprise.

Remember those needs and issues from your first round of discovery. Check in from time to time to see if they have changed. You must commit to regular updates on the Lean implementation. If your results are not in synch with the business goals, needs, and issues of your audience (particularly senior management and peer departments) then your efforts could be dismissed as 'nice to have' but not 'essential'.

Keep your eye on the ball in reporting results – Lean is about meeting business goals faster and better!

Step 6: Never Be Afraid to Start Again

Lean isn't about 'dogma'; it's about building flexibility and adaptability

From time to time, Lean crusaders will make mistakes and find their ideas marginalized in the corporate competition for resources and airtime with executives. Don't despair, go back to steps 1 and 2 and start again. Find out where you made your mistakes and learn from that. Move forward with confidence. If you quit when the going gets rough, you'll never reach your Lean Future State.

Lean has helped thousands of companies worldwide to increase profits, grow competitive market share and add new business lines. The data is there to prove it – it's up to you to make sure your colleagues get that data in ways that suit their needs and preferences.

Lean is about learning and growing – that applies to both the technical and the human side of the Lean enterprise!

Special Note:

Dealing with Engineers, Medical Practitioners, Technicians, and Scientists

In case you thought implementing Lean wasn't hard enough, try it in a technical environment where logic, empirical data and skepticism rule! People who train for engineering, the sciences and medicine are highly doubtful of anything that sounds too full of enthusiasm and too much like the 'flavor of the month'. They are trained to doubt, to methodically pick through arguments or data, and to disdain 'persuasion' or the dreaded 'sell'.

Hey, wait a minute – what if I'm one of these technical people and I'm the enthusiast? Doesn't that make it easier? Not really – think about it – when has it ever been easy to 'sell' your ideas in an environment whose very professionalism depends on critical evaluation and analysis of every result? You are still going to encounter doubt and resistance.

If you are working in this kind of environment – do your homework and have a good plan. To get buy-in you not only need proof but the sources of the data have to be unimpeachable and the organizations referenced need to have similar objectives and work processes to yours. This can get right down to departmental or specialty levels. "How do we know this will work for our X,Y,Z specialty?" "How did they get their data?" "Who validated their data?" ...and so on.

It's your job as Lean leaders to marshal the data, to demonstrate proof and most of all to expect this buy-in to be a slow process. Trial programs, sites visits, and other ways of 'testing' the concepts can be very helpful. But even after you present what you think is absolutely the best logical case for Lean or take them to an awesome site to see it in action, these folks will still want to chew on it and see if something was missed or misrepresented. Once they finally get there, you can also depend on them to keep coming up with issues that need to be resolved and alarming ways the implementation could fail.

Sounds a bit grim for the Lean enthusiast, doesn't it? Well here's the good news. If you can control your impatience and irritation with this process, then chances are you will end up with a more sustainable, more successful Lean practice in your organization. Why? All that logic and analysis (with appropriate stimulation to speed it up a bit) will mistake proof your implementation right down to the detail level. That's mighty handy because Lean enthusiasts and many of the Lean leaders prefer to stay at the strategic level.

Bottom line: love your doubters – know them well and be relaxed with what makes them tick. Keep your focus on sustainable success. These folks can really help get you there.

Copyright © Melanie Beaumont, Summer 2011, All rights reserved

About the Author

Melanie Beaumont is an established coach for building and sustaining high performance teams. She facilitates change management and continuous improvement programs at both the team and senior management level. Melanie has a unique skill set in enabling shared problem solving across specialist and departmental boundaries including facilitation of agreements to resolve conflicting priorities. She has been a successful executive in the telecommunications and education sectors. LEANADVISORS, Inc. ( provides Lean Training and Lean Implementation support to organizations of all sizes and sectors including healthcare, office, service, manufacturing, mining, aerospace, food processing, high tech

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