Lean Leader Career Conundrum


Today's post is by a new contributor — but someone who isn't a new name if you've been a listener to the LeanBlog Podcast. I'm happy to have Jim post here and I'm hoping he'll contribute more in the future. Feel free to interact via the comments or Jim's email (at the bottom of the post). I've know Jim for four or five years and he's a trusted adviser of mine, to be sure….. Mark

By Jim Baran, Value Stream Leadership


Value Stream Leadership has recruited lean business system leaders since 1995. Three years ago, we value stream mapped our core processes: find, fit, and delivery.

In moving from current to future state, we identified several significant gaps that exist in servicing the customer seeking lean leadership talent.

The customer owns some of the problem (understanding of LEAN). However, we found that most of the problem rests with the traditional 3'rd party recruiting firm business model used/abused for over 100 years. It's obvious that the traditional 3'rd party recruiting model has worked well for recruiters for many years. Our business remains strong. Why fix something that isn't broken?

We found that while the traditional recruiting model benefits us, it's really not working well for seasoned lean leaders wishing to elevate their lean careers (product) and companies (customer) wishing to grown lean organically. Ergo, the relationship is unbalanced. Fundamentally, the result really doesn't truly support the company's lean vision/mission (long term) and in some cases may jeopardize the growth and future success of lean. The job get's done but at what cost/value to the customer?

We're currently addressing these gaps/issues as a supplier. It's not our intent to trash the old executive recruitment model. Such was kind to us. But after thorough examination, we just don't feel it works well to support lean progress.

To expand our analysis, we also want to reach out to the lean community in the spirit of learning from successful lean leaders to determine their true value of their lean leadership career path (or lack of one) and its impact on the health and stability of lean journeys today and tomorrow. Perhaps this is an internal issue (current employer) or external (next best career move).

One point to keep in mind is that our firm's past success has been identifying those lean leaders who are happy in their current jobs/company, not “actively” seeking new employment, but are willing to listen to new opportunities. Important to know that this has been our customers “ideal profile”, not ours. We have no criticism on those who are actively seeking new opportunity. We just caution that responses to questions below may be different based on current employment status/stability and how future opportunity is evaluated. As well, there is no right or wrong answers to these questions below.

Questions: 1. If you were the product (candidate), and a potential customer (company or recruiter) called you to pitch the lean leadership opportunity of a lifetime, what's your mindset and reaction to their claim that their opportunity is truly attractive and compelling in relationship to your current career path? Are you willing to make a career move NOW, leaving a successful career path with your employer and taking the risk at a new company as a fresh hire?

2. How would you evaluate a new lean leadership employment opportunity at an employer claiming they are committed to the lean journey and need a leader to take them to the next level? Rank the scope of the job, title, geography and salary in order of importance. (The assumption is that the compensation package at the new company is better than your current plan). Try to view this as a career risk vs. reward simulation.

Secondary questions (a-e) below may help you better define how you would evaluate questions 1-2 above.

a) How do you respond to such a claim of “opportunity of a lifetime”? What would prove to you there was a serious commitment to growing lean at the company?

b) What questions would you ask an employer or recruiter if they called you directly to introduce such opportunity?

c) What would be your motivation to leave your proven success at one company and consider a new role at a different company just starting a lean journey or growing an existing one?

d) Does your current employer have an established career path for functional lean leaders? Is that a concern for you? Do they seriously consider your interest in moving outside of lean roles or mentoring peers in non-traditional lean areas (HR, Accounting, Supply Chain, etc)? Are you on a defined career path now? Is it the same career path you understood 2-3 years ago?

e) Many companies have defined career paths for lean employees. Unfortunately these career paths may have nothing to do with growing lean organically in a company. How would you see/sell your capabilities directly to a company to reach a career level connected with lean that would develop both your skills AND add value to the existing lean journey?

Thanks for the opportunity to connect.

Jim Baran — Owner, Value Stream Leadership – www.valuestreamleaders.com jim@valuestreamleaders.com

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  1. For the record, it’s not a paid advertisement.

    Yes, it’s promotional, but I thought Jim raised some good questions for individual reflection that don’t need to be necessarily communicated with him, at all.


  2. I personally doubt many functional lean leaders would be all that valuable in other organizations unless they had a personal hand in developing and rolling out the lean strategy.

    Being a great lean functional leader and being great at developing and implementing lean are two different things.

    I think that is evidenced by organizations that have established lean implementations recruit from within.

    Also not sure the lean all by itself make a good executive. I don’t think the good business schools will find themselves obsolete any time soon.

  3. Mark – to pick up on your point of “individual reflection”…

    Questions posed on my post reflect the discussions I have with lean leaders (or want to be lean leaders) daily. After 13 years of such days, career knowledge patterns and gaps become obvious.

    We perform a proprietary career and leadership dimensions review with each candidate prior to and post interview. Such objectively assesses the candidate’s leadership skills to specific (company) challenges. It’s not scientific, it just gets to the truth quicker than science.

    More important, the assessment brings to the surface the candidates previous key developmental experiences and the knowledge transfer to the targeted culture.

    Two things surface consistently:
    1. candidates (even with pedigree B-School education) do not know or understand how to market skills or experience effectively.
    2. There is a considerable delta in perceived skills and relevance of key developmental assignments -to the point that many actually view their career forward in the rear view mirror.

    The good news is that the above is continuously improved with listening and practice rather than criticism.



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