Why Must There Be a "New Normal" for Leadership?

John Dyer published a very interesting book in September entitled The Façade of Excellence: Defining a New Normal of Leadership that challenges most conventional thoughts about leadership and its role within organizations. His book contends that leadership actually has many dimensions and several definitions, and it explores four different styles of leadership: The Crisis Leader, The Idea Gathering Leader, The Team Forming Leader, and The Empowerment Leader.

I spoke with John recently and asked him: “Why must there be a ‘new normal’ for leadership?” Here is his full response:

It has been nearly four decades since the NBC documentary “If Japan Can… Why Can’t We?” was first aired.  This program was a massive wake-up call and prompted the creation of initiatives such as Total Quality Management, Lean, and Six Sigma.  While some progress has been made, most organizations, especially outside of manufacturing, are still using old, outdated management practices such as fear, management by objectives, and hierarchical organizational structures.  
Recently, I asked on social media the question: “If you had one word to describe the main ingredient to sustain and expand an improvement initiative, what would it be?”  A word cloud was created to show the most popular results.
Take notice of the two largest words: Leadership and Commitment.  These were followed by: Culture and Buy-in.  You may also notice words like: Engagement, People, Communication, Trust, and Vision.  These are all words associated with questions such as:  “How do we improve our organization’s culture?  Why won’t my leaders fully and wholeheartedly commit to something that seems so obvious to many of us trying to make a difference?  What will it take to get my boss to fully buy-in to allowing teams of employees the opportunity to improve the way things are done (and at the same time, how do we get the employees to trust us and fully buy-in as well)?”

It is interesting that ‘Leadership’ and ‘Commitment’ had similar results.  This reminds me of the old joke that when making breakfast, the hen is involved but the pig is committed.  Commitment means completely tearing down all of the old ways and defining a new ‘normal’ of how things are done at every level within the organization.  Unfortunately, many managers think that it is sufficient to do the bare minimum and try to fake their way to achieving excellence.  They might allow a couple of teams to be formed (with no real authority to change anything) or spend some money on training (but not attending the classes themselves since they are so busy or it is beneath them) or ask their employees for ideas on how to improve (with little to no resources dedicated to implementing these ideas).  All they are doing is creating a flimsy façade of excellence that crumbles at the first sign of trouble. 

A new definition of leadership is required at all levels, from the Board of Directors to Executives to Supervisors.  My book builds the case for change and presents a step-by-step roadmap that leads to collaboration that will put your organization on the path toward achieving excellence.

What do you think of John's perspective? Do the management problems John details here exist in your organization?


Can Lean Be Effective in the Education Sector?

This month, I spoke with Vincent Wiegel about his recently published book, Lean in the Classroom: The Powerful Strategy for Improving Student Performance and Developing Efficient Processes. This book is the first to define Lean Education in all its aspects: course design, actual teaching and learning processes, school management, and the organization of supporting processes. It is firmly based on the Lean management philosophy in conjunction with pedagogy. The book draws on both scientific research in the field of Lean management in general and Lean education in particular. In addition, it is predicated on many years of hands-on experience applying Lean both inside and outside the education sector.

During my conversation with Vincent, I asked him:  "Can Lean Be Effective in the Education Sector?" Here is his complete response:

Lean and Education are two different worlds at first glance. Education focuses on preparing our young ones for lives as responsible citizens and professionals while keeping adults up to date on burgeoning knowledge, technology, and methodologies. It is a strongly cultural and idealistic sector. Lean has a strong rationalist and business focus aiming to improve the performance of organizations. They seem worlds apart but in fact share the same outlook and basic philosophy. They need each other --Let me explain. 

The main aim of education is to determine where our students want to go, what they want to learn. Based on where they currently are, we provide them with the means to develop and grow. Teachers strive to understand their students’ thinking, what they do, and do not yet understand. This is the same as Lean Kaizen way of thinking.

The other way around, a Lean expert best not tell employees what to do but to make them see and think in a different way. They are both teachers (sensei) and students. They don’t tell but ask questions and strive to understand how the employees think and what they need to grow.

Education stands to gain from the action-oriented Lean tradition with its tools and methods. These are complementary to pedagogy. Moreover, Lean will support schools to eliminate waste from all processes, teaching, and support. It provides schools the help to strengthen strategic thinking. Schools need this to reduce teacher workloads and increase the pace to keep up with ever faster changes in knowledge. Keeping curricula up-to-date is one of main challenges that Lean will help Education to answer.

Essentially, the current way of organizing education is not tenable in the coming decade. We need to address how we teach, how we organize schools, how we increase the effectiveness of learning, how we construct classrooms, and how we deploy new technologies.

Lean management philosophy has been successfully applied across many industries – from manufacturing to healthcare, financial services, and construction. Recently, interest in Lean has steadily increased in the education sector, as it was originally introduced in that area’s administrative and support processes. Currently, the introduction of Lean and its potential in education is gaining wider exposure because of massive looming changes – for example, the introduction of technology in education (as EdTech within the traditional system and as MOOCs), demographic changes, budget pressure, new pedagogies, the entrance of more and more private providers, and changing demands of society and industry on the curriculum. 

What is missing is a joint framework that will allow schools, teachers, directors, and boards to harness the potential of these developments and then execute a strategy. Lean Education offers the potential to streamline the execution of strategy and teaching. It accelerates the development of new courses and studies that are closely aligned to the needs of students. It supports the integration of new technologies without overburdening teachers and staff.

My book Lean in the Classroom brings all these elements together into a coherent framework so schools can make necessary changes in one concerted effort. Teaching, professional support, managing the daily work, and changing the way schools function are brought together as a school-wide strategy to organize learning in a way that serves our students by making the most of their talents. 

What do you think of Vincent's ideas?  Do you believe the power of Lean methodology can be effectively applied to the education sector?


Lean and Higher Education -- Can It Work?

In August, I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Yorkstone shortly after the publication of his new book, Global Lean for Higher Education: A Themed Anthology of Case Studies, Approaches, and Tools. Stephen's book reflects the state-of-the-art in the global practical application of Lean for higher education. It demonstrates the diverse applications of Lean in universities inspiring others to deeply engage with Lean thinking in their own unique context and to drive successful, sustainable, Lean work. 

During our conversation, I asked him: "Where is the application of Lean most prevalent in higher education? Where is it most effective?" Here is his complete answer:

Universities are curious places to think about as Lean organizations. They are connected to every industry, while being idiosyncratic all of their own.

Given that, as you might expect, there isn't one clear pattern to the kind of universities that successfully apply Lean. There are institutions with under 10,000 students making a big difference with Lean, and universities with tens of thousands of students equally making advances.

There are clusters of practice however. Where I live in Scotland, a large proportion of the universities have Lean type work going on, there is a growing momentum behind Lean in the United Kingdom higher education, a large and highly influential group of Australian practitioners, and there are examples of great and well established practice in North America and across Europe.

The pattern of growth of Lean in universities seems to spread organically, from a few pioneers outwards. It's fair to say not all activity to embed Lean in higher education is successful, however, and it can be challenging to estimate this. The existence of a named "Lean" team while on the one hand is clear evidence of a deep organizational commitment of one kind, it on the other hand doesn't guarantee that that university is itself highly Lean. Conversely, the absence of such a team doesn't indicate a university is not in fact advanced in applying Lean thinking.

There are a number of maturity models that look to solve this problem and allow institutions to benchmark against each other. However, given the higher education sector is hugely diverse, simplistic comparisons can be unhelpful. "Paralysis by analysis" is a real risk. Perhaps a practical approach is better.

It's a practical approach that is behind the successful Lean applications in universities. We see use of classic lean tools like visual display boards and team huddles, rapid improvement type activity, lean linked with project boards and technology. However, it's not one way of "doing" lean that works in universities, but "being" Lean that works. Lean in higher education works where institutions don't slavishly adhere to one particular tool or product; but rather when they reflect deeply on their purpose, take action to improve, learn, and always do so with respect for people.

And isn't this the right thing to focus on, regardless of the industry we work in?

Lean in higher education is only growing, and it has already been applied both to administrative and academic services. What do you think of Stephen's perspective? Do you feel that Lean can have a significant and measurable impact in higher education?


Can Lean Principles Be Applied to the Process Industries?

Peter King just published a second edition of his groundbreaking book Lean for the Process Industries: Dealing with Complexity this past June -- just about 10 years after the first edition was released. Since the publication of the first edition, Peter has been busy consulting with food, beverage, gasoline additive, and nutraceutical companies -- these new experiences have broadened his perspectives on certain Lean processes and have given him a richer set of examples to discuss in this new edition. I spoke with him this month and asked him: “Why do Lean improvement efforts lag within the process industries?” Here is his complete answer:

That is a question that puzzled me for a long time.  During the last 18 years of my DuPont career, while we were having much success applying Lean concepts to process operations, I saw nothing in the literature and heard nothing at conferences about others in similar industries applying Lean.  So, I decided to do a little research.

What I learned is that there was some Lean activity in process operations, but it was not being talked about. Process companies can tend to be very “camera shy” – That is, secretive about their process details and methods.  Because the companies doing very effective Lean work were having success but being relatively quiet about it, it didn’t spread among other process companies due to lack of role models or documented success stories.

The  success stories that were documented were almost all in discrete parts manufacturing and assembly – automobiles, refrigerators, microwave ovens, computer keyboards, etc., which created the feeling among process companies that “I’m different – my processes just don’t look like that.”  Those differences are real, but it doesn’t mean that the Lean philosophies and concepts don’t apply; it just means that you have to think about them in a different context. 

The latter part of my DuPont career was spent doing just that: understanding Lean concepts and tools and then figuring out how to adapt them to improve chemical, food, fiber, and synthetic rubber processes.

A very pertinent example is cellular manufacturing. Many have concluded that this tool, very useful in parts assembly, has no place in process manufacturing because the equipment is generally too large to be relocated to move into a cellular configuration.  But we proved a long time ago that by thinking beyond physical arrangements to understand the real benefits of cells, cells could provide very significant value without any relocation.

After leaving my 42-year DuPont career, I decided to write Lean for the Process Industries to provide documented examples of Lean success in process operations, with guidance on how to adapt the concepts and tools and a clear roadmap on how to meet the challenges.

The positive reaction that book received has led me to believe I met that objective. 

About a year ago, based on the success of the first edition, I was offered the opportunity to write a second edition.  I enthusiastically seized that opportunity.  The first edition had been written largely based on my Lean experiences with various DuPont processes.  In the intervening 10 years, I have consulted with companies covering a much broader array of process operations: transmission and brake fluids, vitamin tablets, biological materials for human implant, salad dressings, puddings, potato chips and others, and have faced new challenges that have broadened my perspectives on how to apply the concepts, all of which are captured in the new edition.

Thus, I feel that the second edition meets the objectives I had for the first edition even more completely and thoroughly, and will reduce the gap referred to in the initial question.

What do you think of Peter King’s viewpoint? Have any readers who have been using the first edition of the book read this new edition? What are your thoughts?