Reader Question: Role of a Company President?


Since we've been talking about leadership and Lean, it's coincidence that I got this email from a reader. I'll let the blog readers answer this

Posted with permission:

I am [name withheld], 25yrs old, working for a small manufacturing firm of over 70 employees in (Saitama Ken) Japan.

I have been working for eight months in the current company, staring from the scratch with educating the employees through, Learning by doing – Muda, Mura, Muri, 5S, PDCA, Autonomous maintenance, drawing the Current state map, via lectures and group activities lead by a Kaizen leader (Shop floor worker-only ).

I have had my share of employee resistance and management resistance. But the most persistent of all is that from the president who is 41 years old and refuses of go to (Gemba) shop floor.

As a company, we take 30 minutes (Kaizen Time) everyday for Kaizen activities and during the Kaizen time, the president does come to the shop floor. Subject to being present in the company during the Kaizen time. But, he does not agree on going to the shop floor on regular basis – during the actual working hours. He thinks that it is not his job to go to Gemba (shop floor) and observe. But the top managers and Floor managers job and he takes decisions based on the data in files and information from the top managers and floor managers, who in the past did not observe the gemba them selves. But have now started going to gemba regularly for the last one week, due to my repeated reminder.

I would like to request for your thoughts, if possible of the blog readers and contributors about, what is the role of the President in a firm, which wants to or is implementing Lean ?

What do you think? Click comments to answer…

I think this is an interesting example that shows “not all Japanese companies are Lean.” Also maybe think about how a 25 year old can influence senior leadership. That's quite a challenge my reader has.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Supposing the president is on-site, his role should be to lead and drive the lean transformation publicly. He should participate, lead by example, and give public recognition to others.

    If the president is not on-site, which is the case in many larger companies, he should do as much as possible from a distance and visit the gemba as much as his schedule allows. In this case, the plant manger assumes the lean leadership role. (One of my company’s plants currently has a Japanese plant manager who only goes to the plant floor on a rare occasion and will not change. What a horrible example.)

  2. Without Senior leadership, plant direction will be extremely difficult. Our VP (highest ranking individual in our facility) will break out of conference calls to make the daily walk (ours is scheduled to accomodate the participants). If the VP isn’t on the walk, operators are not afraid to ask if he isn’t available.

    Being a Union shop, he’s fielded comments from the Union workforce concerning the value of his (and others’) presence daily. He explains it this way, “you have standard work as an operator. I have standard work as the VP that includes getting to the floor every day…” That is a POWERFUL message that cannot be delivered by someone else.

    If your top management doesn’t have buy-in, or is only partially involved, the operators will see that. It will make the same impression on them. You’ll never achieve total commitment from one without total commitment from the other.

    I wish you the best. The difficulty of your position is multiplied due to his example. Not just for Lean, but it will foster the “us versus them” attitude between labor and management. On the bright side, if you can pull the transition off, your learning experience will be incredible. He may be a “turtle” who needs more time, which is better than a “fox” who is only leading you on…

  3. Mike T makes a lot of good points, but I’ll nitpick this one thing.

    It’s great that the VP is dedicated to his standard work. But, when asked about “why,” I wish he’d have a better answer than “my standard work says so.” That’s a pretty superficial answer and might sound silly, since he probably has a lot of control over his own standard work.

    Better answers to “why are you out here, Mr. VP?” might include:

    * “I’m here to oversee the ongoing discipline of our lean efforts, so I can follow up with my managers or employees if I see things that need attention.”

    * “I’m here to be available if you have any concerns that aren’t being addressed by your management. What can I help with?”

    Things like that.


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