Improvement initiatives are spectacular in their successes and in their failures. For every company like GE that achieves a fundamental transformation of its work and culture, another completely squanders its invested time and money, and nearly two other firms get the tactical rewards of cost reduction projects without any strategic gains. The differentiating factor: leadership.
“These are not ‘bottom-up’ programs:
The CEO must own it.”
Our Executive Team Leadership coaching speaks to those in the senior organizational positions of a firm as they undertake major improvement and growth initiatives. For most firms, this will be the CEO, COO, President, and/or General Manager, as well as the most senior managers reporting to those levels. However, in large organizations and multinationals, the number of executives who are necessary to make an initiative like Lean or Lean Six Sigma work can be very large. The key determinant of who should be considered the Executive Team depends on the power structure of the organization. Some companies use organizational titles such as Vice President and above as descriptors for the group of executives whose initiative is required to make Lean work.
Coaching to Develop the Leadership Road Map
To deliver value to customers and shareholders in this increasingly competitive environment, executives typically focus on the coming eighteen to thirty-six months. Planning for this timeframe is one approach leaders can use to think through the changes they want to initiate in that era and their own personal role in that change. The leadership road map is intended to translate what needs to be done by the company into what the executive needs to do to usefully lead the initiative.
Rath & Strong’s coaching to the Executive Team is based on the following fundamental principles:
- Each leader is unique, with different strengths and abilities. The goal is not to change the executive’s style, but to define and capitalize on strengths.
- There are overarching high-priority issues – “A-items.” One of the first tasks is defining these A-items, outcomes, and plans to move the enterprise forward.
- The style of the executive is the most important factor in determining how the plan should be put into effect.
- There is a set of vital tools for the executive to employ. One of the most critical tools is the ability of the executive to ask the right questions in the right way.
- Every era has a central theme that is embodied in the values of the executive and the top management team.
The Leadership Road Map for each executive is a personalized plan in the sense that it requires honest confrontation with the realities of the particular executive’s strengths and weaknesses, personal career aspirations, complementary skills in others above or below in the organization structure, and style of operating. The technical, managerial, and behavioral requirements of the position are shaped into time-phased plans that clarify the goals (A-items), and build on and shape the executive’s style. The goal is to increase personal effectiveness in leading this change. The plan sets specific goals, tasks, and review points to achieve the executive’s objectives within the timeframe he or she sets as critical.
Lean Six Sigma Leadership Requires Symbolic as well as Concrete Actions
The aspects of leadership unique to Lean and Lean Six Sigma include symbolic actions like personally going through Green Belt training and doing a project, or devoting four hours per week to involvement in Lean and Lean Six Sigma projects with the responsible Black Belt present, or being the Champion of a major project or cluster of projects, or putting Lean Six Sigma as the first item on every meeting’s agenda. The effect of symbolic actions can be galvanizing – like Jack Welch’s memo on Six Sigma training as a requirement for promotion.
Rath & Strong coaching can help each executive determine what symbolic actions are congruent with his or her style and will be seen as credible signals. Symbolic actions often become part of the organization’s myths and stories and can have a powerful effect.
In a broader context, Rath & Strong offers coaching to the Executive Team to support leadership communication and decisions that will lead to significantly better results for Lean Six Sigma and other improvement initiatives. We help leaders to:
- Assess organizational readiness
- Establish the deployment focus
- Lay the groundwork
- Develop a rollout strategy
- Manage risks
- Adjust the standards of performance and behavior
- Lead ongoing or continuous improvement
Virtually every leader will find that the organization tests his or her commitment to a major initiative. Whether it is the pressure to reduce the number of Black Belts that need to be trained or the bad quarter that suggests holding off on Lean Six Sigma for now, senior members of their team will come back and say: “I like Lean Six Sigma. It is great. But…we need to adjust the plan for this reason.” Therefore, it’s critical that the leader carefully choose what is really non-negotiable, and stick to these principles no matter what. Rath & Strong’s coaching helps leaders to prepare for these inevitable tests and to determine what is non-negotiable.
Establishing Expectations and Executive Dashboards
Companies pursue business process improvements like Lean Six Sigma for different reasons, and being clear about what to expect from the effort is crucial for the leader to be able to make the decisions about how to implement it. We always ask the top executive staff during the executive launch event to define how their various meetings would be different in the future if they were managing in, for example, a Lean Six Sigma way. This exercise helps them round out a portion of the vision of change, and it can give them a scorecard to appraise their own collective performance in the personal side of transformation.
If management truly wants the benefits of transformation, then they need a scorecard and method to measure themselves along that particular dimension. The concept is that they of course need to lead by “walking the talk.”
“At the end of the day, this is much less of a technical program, although it has a lot of technical tools. It is a leadership and cultural change program.”
David Cote, President and CEO, Honeywell International
Rath & Strong’s Six Sigma Leadership Handbook