Last week we published an article in which I identified five reasons why lean efforts fail. It has to do with the role of leadership in directing lean culture and practice at an organization.
The question that came next from a connection on LinkedIn was a fantastic question. He essentially asked,
“How do I convince my leaders to buy-in to lean?”
This is coming from a middle manager who is passionate about lean. He has also had success influencing his peers to adopt lean. But when it comes to changing his higher-ups he has been stumped.
We talked at length and identified these few principles. May they be helpful to anyone caught in the middle, trying to get lean credibility!
A Major Preface: You Can Only Change Yourself
Before discussing the things you can do to get leadership’s buy-in we need to preface this this article. There is a fundamental law of the universe we need to remember. It’s nearly as fundamental as the law of gravity, and it’s this:
You cannot change others. You can only change yourself.
Yes, you can influence, persuade, compel, etc. But even after all that talking, it’s up to the person in front of you to change themselves–because you can’t. You can only change you.
Furthermore, the authority structures of an organization make it exceedingly more difficult to “change” anyone with greater authority than yourself. As a general rule, we agree with Mark Horstman over at Manager Tools to not do it! It just doesn’t work–with rare exceptions.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t speak the truth and different perspectives. By all means, please continue to do that. Just be cautious about crossing the line into trying to make them change, because you can’t.
With this in mind, our recommendation is something very simple, meek, and full of responsibility: change yourself.
At the end of the day you may not be able to persuade anyone else to change. However, you can make a decision to change your own behavior to be more effective.
If you’re willing to do that, we have four recommendations.
1. Build a Business Case for Lean
If you’re trying to get buy-in with leadership, then you have to build a business case for lean. Do your homework, and go prepared. Emphasize facts, data, and reality. Even consider benchmarking your current state. Make it plain and apparent where there is waste and inefficiency. Show how a lean change can affect a business metric or key performance indicator (KPI) like lead time, inventory, cost, etc.
If there is not a business case for lean, your leadership would be foolish to entertain the idea. So if they do not have a business case, give them one.
2. Negotiate for Smaller Opportunities
Be careful about taking an all-or-nothing approach presenting lean. It doesn’t have to be that way, and you could be limiting your possibilities.
For example, maybe your leadership is completely closed off to the idea of converting all of manufacturing from batch production to one-piece-flow. That’s okay. How about one product or one process? Maybe there’s something with less risk or resources that they would be more comfortable with. Start there.
The point is this: you have to be okay with not getting it all. It is better and wiser to focus on progress and gaining small wins.
Leadership may be closed off to idea X or project Y but open to opportunity Z. If that’s the case, take it! Stop demanding the whole alphabet and take what you can get.
3. Get Results
Speaking of winning, it’s essential that you get results. Become the most effective and excellent employee you can. The results you gather will give you credibility over time. They can also give lean greater credibility over time.
You may not be able to change the status quo, but you’ve got nothing to lose by obtaining outstanding results wherever you are able. When you do this, three things could happen:
- The credibility you gain catches the attention of upper management and opens up greater opportunity for lean.
- You eventually get promoted and are running the show.
- Nothing changes but you end up creating a killer resume that you can take nearly anywhere.
4. Be Shrewd
If you are going to try to get lean buy-in, it will require that you take on some risk. The moment you are given some leeway and are allowed to do something lean, everyone will be watching you. If you slip up and fail, you may never get an opportunity again.
So you have to be shrewd:
- Be mindful of both people and processes that could jeopardize your newfound opportunity.
- Don’t allow politics to compromise or cancel your efforts.
- Don’t allow business as usual, upcoming crises, or resource constraints to can your project.
Basically, plan strategically because you may only get one shot.