For nearly 20 years, I have been engaged in teaching the leaders of “brownfield” businesses about Lean leadership. As with all other trainers, we teach company leaders in batches and accept the many abnormal conditions that lay in front of our eyes:

  • Long queue time to align everyone’s schedule
  • Some leaders miss the training due to sudden emergencies
  • Training courses are too long
  • The training material is put on a shelf and never looked at again
  • There is a lack a buy-in and commitment
  • Leaders attend the training and then quickly forget about it
  • Leaders do not follow-up with managers who attended the training
  • The training is expensive and has low return on investment
  • The training fails to achieve its objectives

Not surprisingly, batch processing of leaders to learn the fundamentals of Lean leadership suffers from a large variation in results and a low overall success rate. Said another way, it takes too much time to develop basic competencies in Lean leadership.

Are there any benefits to batch processing for Lean leadership development? I can think of only one: Good conversations among leaders. However, conversations rarely drive Lean management forward. So are the conversations really of any benefit?

The purpose of Lean leadership training is many:

  • Develop a common understanding of Lean management
  • Inform people how Lean leadership differs from conventional leadership
  • Gain leadership team commitment
  • Develop new ways of thinking and new daily routines
  • Change the culture through daily practice
  • Accelerate the Lean journey
  • Leaders act as coaches

The last bullet point, “Leaders act as coaches,” is troublesome because leaders don’t know Lean well enough after a one- or two-day Lean leadership workshop to coach effectively. In addition, almost every business leader that I have ever trained greatly overestimates their knowledge of Lean. For them, the training is likely to tell them what they believe the already know.

640px-pollock_to_husseyThink about it this way: Imagine that I ask a group of 15 business leaders, “Have you ever played Cricket?” and that everyone says “No.” Then, I say, “OK, now each of you have suddenly been made the coach of a professional Cricket team. How will you coach the team and its individual members in their respective positions? What will you do?” That is what we are asking leaders steeped in conventional management to do: Coach a team of people in an activity whose mindset, practice methods, rules, and measures of success they know nothing about.

But it is even worse than that in business, compared to sport, because the employees (players) don’t know Lean management any better than their leaders (coaches). A department (team) staffed by both employees and a coach who do not know Lean management will struggle. Most leaders will give up within a day or two. Rather than accelerate the Lean journey, the training can slow down or stall the Lean journey.

Contrast this with how I teach Lean leadership in my university course, which comes closer to flow. This method requires students to engage the material a few times a week for 14 weeks, resulting in multiple learning cycles that build off of one another. This rapid cycle PDCA approach yields far better results than a one- or two-day Lean leadership workshop in terms of learning the fundamentals of Lean leadership. Putting that classroom knowledge into use, on the job, is a separate challenge to which students must also respond to.

After many years of thought, I have created a new method for Lean leadership training whose focus is on flow and features rapid daily learning cycles, for the purpose of compressing the time it takes to develop basic competencies in Lean leadership. It consists of one half-day of training class complemented by ten actions that together create an environment better suited for rapid on-the-job learning. It is a countermeasure to the batch training method and Cricket coach problems outlined above, and allows leaders to be more effective coaches and also teach several key elements of Lean management to associates.

Contact me if you would like to begin this new Lean leadership training practice in your organization.

2 Responses to Lean Leadership Training: From Batch to Flow

  1. Hal Moran says:

    Great post, Bob! And, this method doesn’t just apply to Lean. It can be applied to any long term change in the way we think, learn, do.

    I, too, have been leading Lean leadership academies for quite some time – at minimum 10 weeks with continued follow up. In addition, for those interested, I set up weekly small group “discipleship” sessions that usually last for 3-6 months.

    Instant culture change, especially at the leadership level, is an oxymoron – which you point out in your opening bullet points.

    I’m reminded of the old joke – How many Lean leaders does it take to change a light bulb? None if it doesn’t want to change.

  2. Jonathan Halperin says:

    I am not deeply versed in Lean mgt/thinking the way you are Bob, though here are my concerns with most classrooms based leadership development programs:

    *Not JIT nor immediately available before there is a real need to pull the tool, model, concept and apply it in the gemba
    *That it’s primarily conducted in classrooms, not in the gemba
    *That we treat learning like a mass production, batch & queue factory – humans are treated like widgets, 1 size fits all, that individuals somehow don’t deserve customized, individualized support

    I realize this is often done for supposed “efficiency”, however I don’t think it usually works well. I guess this is why I like the (admittedly expensive) 1:1 gemba coach model. We are trying to incorporate this more into our leadership development programs, even when the subject matter is not specifically about Lean leadership.

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