10 High-Leverage Principles for Going Lean

Principle 1: Ensure that a vision and strategic focal points exist and are adequately communicated. People need to be continually aware of the expected end-state and what it will be like for them to operate in this end-state. This "vision" — or whatever term plays best in the organization's culture — provides a common direction for people to head toward. In addition, people need to know the key target areas for improvement, called strategic focal points. The combined vision and strategic focal points provide employees with information and choice principles at key transformation points, such as improvement, project selection and the first HPT's redesigns.

Principle 2: Design events for meaningful participation. It's common sense that people own and commit to something they have participated in creating. But it's also obvious all organizational members can't participate in every decision affecting them. Leaders need to strike the correct balance between "top only" and "everybody-in-the-pool" types of participation. The question "Who really needs to be there for the best organizational outcome?" is a good invitation guideline. Levels of participation will vary by purpose.

Principle 3: Create a learning environment. Organizations where leaders have created and maintained a learning environment have a significant advantage over those who do not in a large-scale change effort. Realistically, there will always be pressure to complete technical day-to-day tasks. However, organizations that allocate time for learning tend to outperform those that don't. In a large transformation effort at Shell Oil, leaders provided money for schooling, even though it may not have been directly related to the job, established an online global information sharing network organized by key discipline areas, rewarded those who demonstrated continual learning behavior, encouraged intelligent risk taking based on data … just to name a few examples.

Principle 4: Create opportunities for choice. Human beings, for the most part, prefer choice over being told what to do. Leaders can raise motivation levels and increase commitment to the strategy by crafting situations that provide employees choices when possible. Hewlett-Packard excels at this practice. Choice is commonplace for design engineers regarding component design as for project managers regarding staffing and other project decisions. "Opportunities for choice" does not translate into "unlimited, unbounded choices." Good LSS/HPO leaders establish boundaries around choices. For example, while H-P design engineers have innovation choices in electronic component design, they still must conform to standards regarding design templates, approved suppliers and standard components.

Principle 5: Go slow to go fast. Often, at the start of a large-scale change effort, effective leaders take time to get widespread understanding, group participation, buy-in and commitment to common goals. To an uninformed observer this seems like wasted time because few "hard results" are produced. By taking time like this up front, however, leaders can compress the overall timeframe since people tend to act more quickly in subsequent project phases. This strategy also yields results that are more sustainable than approaches that ignore the above steps.

Principle 6: Be constantly vigilant for symbolic act opportunities. Employees look to leaders' actions — even more so than their words — to judge commitment to new ways of doing things. Therefore, it is important for leaders to demonstrate commitment in ways such as publicly recognizing and rewarding the desired new behaviors and personally exhibiting a new behavior, such as collecting and analyzing data before making a major decision. Most often opportunities for symbolic acts cannot be neatly scheduled into the integrated work plan, so leaders need to be on the lookout for opportunities and seize them.

Principle 7: Assist employees in integration and sense making. Many new things are going on during an LSS/HPO transformation. At times employees may be confused about how various components of the change effort fit together. Leaders need to periodically iterate through the following three steps:

• Identify confusing or seemingly contradicting aspects of the transformation by soliciting employee feedback and by trying to anticipate potential areas for clarification.

• Prepare remarks that explain how various elements fit and help employees make sense of why these things are needed from organizational and personal employee perspectives.

• Communicate clarifications and explanations through several communication channels, such as town hall meetings, the organization's intranet and newsletters.

Principle 8: Maintain a systemic focus. Since many activities are often concurrently under way, it is important for leaders to pay attention to congruency of key performance levers such as process redesign and organizational restructuring. For example, it doesn't help to announce the organization is going to extensively use teams, but keep old HR practices that reward individuals. Leaders may find the Performance Framework tool (included in Devane's book) helpful in planning tactical rollouts of changes and also assessing whether the impact had the desired results.

Principle 9: Seek intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For people to change their current ways of thinking and acting, they need to want to change. This motivation comes in two varieties. One variety is intrinsic motivation, which is an inner drive on the part of an individual to do a task. A leader can't intrinsically motivate an employee; he can only create conditions under which an employee can become intrinsically motivated. The other variety of motivation-extrinsic motivation, such as a bonus-is usually initiated and administered by top leaders and HR departments. Good LSS/HPO leaders ensure conditions exist for both types of motivation. The book offers ideas for both types, broken down into short-term (i.e., dinner for two, participation in short-term projects of interest to the employee) and long-term (i.e., profit sharing, seeing the "whole" of one's work and how it fits into the big picture).

Principle 10: Reshuffle priorities as conditions change to get the desired outcome and send a message about what's important. Leaders constantly need to watch for changed conditions that may require activity reprioritization. Karl Schmidt, vice president of process excellence at Johnson & Johnson, advises leaders at all levels of the organization to pay attention to what's really important for the business and make adjustments when required. Sometimes, Schmidt maintains, this means putting an individual's operations job on hold while she completes an improvement project. In addition to getting the necessary improvement project completed on time, this sends a strong message to the organization that process improvement is important.

Excerpted from Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High-Performance Organizations: Leading the Charge on Dramatic, Rapid and Sustainable Improvement (Pfeiffer/A Wiley Imprint, 2004, ISBN: 0-7879-6973-7, $45), by Tom Devane.

The Art of "Hard & Soft" — Why You Should Integrate the Three Top Performance Improvement Disciplines To Transform Your Company, a new book by Devane, teaches how — and why — to combine the best of Lean Six Sigma and HPO.

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