Your Mission as Change Agent


    By Mark Edmondson

    As a lean professional, here are two facts you already know about you and your company:

    1. Over 95% of your body mass consists of water.

    2. Over 95% of your company's activities consist of waste.

    Yet, you've probably also learned to be careful when telling your CEO or COO that most of their business activities are waste. The more enlightened executives may accept your diagnosis as an opportunity, but be prepared for the more common reaction: disbelief, denial, and defensiveness.

    So how do you present your diagnosis of pervasive waste to senior leadership?

    You can try reason and logic. Explain that pervasive waste in business is a fact, just like pervasive water in their body is a fact. It's really nothing to get upset about. Tell them to be smart and regard it as good news, not an admission of poor performance. After all, pervasive waste offers tremendous opportunity for a breakthrough improvement.

    You can appeal to their short-term financial challenges. Walk them through the numbers: For example, let's say you have a value stream with a 5% profit margin. And let's say that you reduce the waste in this value stream from 95% to 65%. What's the result? From a financial perspective, it's a breakthrough. You just decreased costs 30%, and increased profits by a factor of 6 or 7.

    As a professional, you know that breakthroughs like this are often a rote challenge from a technical perspective. It's just not that difficult for a top shelf lean professional to identify and help reduce waste to a level of 65%.

    But your real challenge is not technical – it's organizational. And it's not rational – it's emotional. You must gently help leadership recognize and accept the blind spots they may be facing about their own success.

    This may not be easy. When your CFO has been struggling to improve profits by 2% through traditional margin squeezing, it can be dicey for you to confidently declare that you can increase profits by a factor of 7x in a few months. Possible reactions can range from laughter to furled eyebrows to crossed arms. Disbelief, denial, defensiveness.

    Now a brief commercial word about outside change agents: That's why some of our best clients are those who already have lean-savvy professionals on staff. They realize that sometimes it just takes an organizational outsider to reassure leadership about what's possible. They know that a seasoned change-agent who has experience handling emotional and organizational issues can hasten progress – and results.

    We're back. So your mission as a lean professional is to fulfill the role of enterprise change agent. Technical competency is given. You must evolve from being a technical resource on the production floor and fill a much bigger role. Your company needs you to skillfully guide leadership quickly past their emotional blind spots. Your company needs you to challenge leadership when their goals are not set high enough. Your company needs you to understand each step in the change process – complete with anticipated technical and people challenges. And your company needs you to execute effectively and rapidly.

    That's your mission as your company's lean change agent. Are you in?

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    Mark Edmondson
    Mark Edmondson is passionate about achieving rapid, breakthrough results during a company’s lean transformation. With 30 years of front-line experience while working with over 80 companies, Mr. Edmondson developed a philosophy of helping companies create a culture that sustains operational excellence through low cost yet transformative changes.


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