• Bill Greider

Reducing Firefighting: Start Your Leader Standard Work with 3 Things

We can't call ourselves lean unless we can actually make improvements.. Every single shift, every single day. We also can't really consider ourselves lean if supervisors and other managers are busy fixing other people's work or fire fight ing.

Unfortunately, the way managers "get ahead" and find themselves in leadership positions is because they have proven themselves to be good at......fixing other people's jobs and firefighting! The strategy is to replace this tendency with work that supports a culture of kaizen.

All of the companies I work for get very good at making improvements. It starts with using A3 (temporary self directed work teams) to make employee suggestions become reality. If everyone in a 100 person business leads 1 A3 per year, then that would yield 100 improvements toward flow. The key is that the person impacted by a crummy process becomes the person who makes it a less crummy process. As the people who do the work lead more and more improvements to the work, the need for supervisors to fix other people's jobs and firefight gets smaller and smaller. So now what the heck do they do?

Here are 3 things they can do starting today:

1. Go from giving answers to asking open ended questions it is very exhilarating to realize you don't need to be the smartest person in the room! The concept of "humble inquiry" suggests that leaders use open ended questions to pull answers from people who aren't used to being asked. (If you ask yes/no questions, it is thought that you are simply asking for confirmation to your answer). Once people trust you are listening, bar the door!! More A3s!!!!! Simply ask "would you help me understand what the problem is here?" After you ask that, write it down. Right there and then. Don't tell them you'll get back to them, or we tried that already, etc. while doing all of this, remember that the true expert is the person who DOES the work every single day, and that it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR job.

2. Make the time every day to support A3 leaders-managers need to carve out 30 minutes per day and be determined to figure out how they can help A3 leaders. If you are too busy to carve out 30 minutes, people will correctly assume lean isn't important. All managers need to do is go to the A3 board, pick a project, and go see the of the project you picked. All you need to ask: "I saw you're leading this, will you show me what your doing?" Do they need help getting their team members together for an A3 meeting? Do they need help with the form? Do they need a refresher in 5 Why? Do they need help preparing for their closing? You'll never know if you don't show up!

3. Develop people-one of the tenets of the Toyota Production System is to "continuously develop your people and partners". In your company, how exactly is this done? Nobody will argue that the role of management is to develop leaders. After all, they're not processing orders, or moving parts, right? Think of A3 as an audition for leadership. A3 leaders are being asked to leverage the diversity of a 3-5 person team and gain agreement to solve problems using the scientific method (define-measure-analyze-improve-control) and then teach their peers what they've learned (at the A3 closing). Isn't that what we need leaders to do? The tricky part is the gaining agreement. So how do you make really good leaders? Encourage (and help) them lead a lot of improvement A3s.

Keep these 3 things in mind, Write them on a piece of paper and post them on your bathroom mirror. DO them every day, encourage others to do the same and you will wake up one day without the chaos and firefighting you might be used to.

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