Lean Mistakes & Lessons Learned: Not Securing Executive Ownership
Mark Graban’s Note: Today is the first in a new series of posts by Mark Edmondson. See all of his past Lean Blog posts. If you like this topic of reflections and lessons learned, check out my collaborative eBook project “Practicing Lean.”
As a Lean change agent, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Some mistakes I recognized early and recovered from; others were a blind spot that affected outcomes and success of the assignment. A few still haunt me from time to time when I suffer a case of “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
In the spirit of sharing, and as personal therapy, I’ve asked Mark Graban if I may reflect on some lessons I’ve learned over the years as a Lean change agent in a series of posts on his blog. If you’re feeling vulnerable and are comfortable admitting to mistakes, please comment with your lessons as well.
The first mistake I’d like to share: Not securing executive ownership.
I know what you’re thinking: “Mark, how could you not understand the importance of executive ownership during a major Lean initiative? That’s lesson #1 in change management 101, right?” Well, I thought I knew what this meant, but in reality I didn’t really understand the energy of ownership.
Let me clarify with an example from years ago. I was asked to help the president of a semi-autonomous subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company. Years ago, this subsidiary was acquired by the parent company, yet maintained a separate facility, staff, and culture. The problem was that its largest customer, the parent company, wasn’t happy with its delivery performance and quality.
As an expert Lean change agent, I thought I understood the problem right away. But I also understood the importance of executive ownership, so I asked the president to attend all reviews and briefings and be an advocate for changes recommended by the team. He agreed, and attended most key reviews.
The problem was that I facilitated the workshops, I organized the Gemba walks, I reported the metrics, I prepared the daily coaching, I set up the visuals, and I led the reviews. One day, I woke up and realized that the energy of ownership shifted – the president didn’t own this; I did. Like most successful executives, the president knew how to delegate. He’s a busy guy and Lean is just one of many initiatives, so delegate! And without saying a word, that’s exactly what he did by limiting his involvement to attending key reviews. Before long, management associated me as the owner of the Lean “initiative.”
And since I wasn’t their boss, commitment waned and progress stalled. Can you feel my pain?
What was my mistake? I was assertive, proactive, understood how to solve problems, and accepted responsibility like I thought a good change agent should. But as a Lean thinker, I didn’t understand the energy of who’s the owner. Establishing ownership begins with clearly communicating up front the president’s role and my role:
President’s role: Owner. Not sponsor, not reviewer, not advocate… but OWNER, with all the duties and responsibilities thereof. This includes accountability for success, and takes a lot of time and discipline.
My role as Lean change agent: Subject matter expert. I can recommend, teach, coach, inspire, affirm, organize, measure, mentor, argue, justify, analyze, recommend, facilitate, entertain, cajole, whine, support, acknowledge, and work really hard. But I can’t own the company’s Lean journey and its outcome. That would create the wrong energy and confuse people about the organization’s priorities.
As a change agent, it’s critical that you not own the company’s Lean strategy. Maybe you have an important sounding title like “VP of Enterprise Lean,” or “Corporate Director of Operational Excellence,” or “Chief El Jefe Sensei.” No matter. Unless you have responsibility for success of the overall organization, you can’t own its Lean journey. Figure out how to effectively convey to leadership their role as owner, what this means, and how it will transform their behaviors on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The company’s success may depend on this; your credibility certainly does.
Today, when stepping into an engagement, I’ve learned to begin with a heart-to-heart talk with the executive sponsor and make sure he/she understands their role as owner. I make it ok for him to say, “You know, this looks like it will take a lot of my time and I’m just not ready to take this on.”
Or, they may decide to find another change agent who’s a little more green and willing to own it.
Don’t be that guy.
Stay tuned for my next mistake: Not aligned with vision, values and strategy.