Lean or operational excellence programs tend to be strong on specifying the process or engineering angle of the future state manufacturing system. The people angle, on the other side, is often less developed. This imbalance delays operational excellence projects and lean conversions significantly, and performance improvements are often a far cry from those promised.

On the technical side of a typical lean transition, process capacity is captured and bottlenecks identified, product families are analysed and value streams defined, layout changes are designed and inventory levels calculated. On paper, this often looks pretty amazing, but….

Unfortunately, the future state for the people - and ways and means of getting them there - are often not closely considered. Yet making fundamental changes in the way the process operates deeply impacts the people in our organisations. We need their cooperation and trust, and to build their understanding and skills to make the required changes happen and ensure the process actually operates as well as it looks on paper.

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When the see-saw of technical transition and people transition is unbalanced, results will be disappointing. Making meaningful changes will take much longer. And once the new process is ‘in place’, it will be much harder to ‘hold the gains’. As David Mann, in his best-selling book “Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain a Lean Conversion” puts it: every technical change requires new management practices to sustain over time.

So we need re-balance the see-saw - but how?

Changing working practices implies that new skills must be built and applied on a daily basis. We need to define clearly 

•      The future state for our people: which skills and habits are needed at each level of the organisation to make our process changes stick and deliver?

•      The transitions of skills and habits: how will we move our people from where they are now to where they need to be?

Once defined, these future states and the “how“ can be formalised in new job descriptions and career paths, for example, and then actively managed.

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Let’s illustrate this for one organisational level, using the example of THE SUPERVISOR.

As supervisors and middle managers play a central role in lean conversions and operational excellence initiatives, managing their skills transition is extremely important. Basic knowledge training in lean principles and tools is not enough. Leaders require new ‘soft’ skills to get the best out of their teams, including three skills featured in Training within Industry’s “5 Needs of Good Supervisors”

•    Skill in Leading: How to build trust and quickly solve people problems

•   Skill in Instructing: How to get people to follow new methods when processes change. 

•   Skill in Improving Methods: How to involve people in optimising their own processes.

The Training within Industry (TWI) training programs of JOB RELATIONS, JOB INSTRUCTION and JOB METHODS develop these three foundational leadership skills required by supervisors and middle managers to navigate operational transformations successfully. These must be applied with discipline, on a daily basis, to be effective. Discipline can be developed through LEADER STANDARD WORK training. In addition, good leaders are good coaches. Coaching skills can developed through TOYOTA KATA COACHING skills training.

Of course, there are other important leadership skills for operations excellence success. But these five provide a powerful starter kit of ‘people skills’ that allow front-line leaders to guide, train and support their teams more effectively though significant change initiatives, and to get outstanding results faster.

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By defining people transitions for each organisational level and managing them more actively, we can accelerate the pace and impact of process and engineering changes and grow our people. As Toyota puts it: ‘Building people before building cars’.

Where can I get help with the skills transitions of my supervisors & middle managers?

The Supervisor Academy and the TWI Institute develop the five essential leadership skills (leading, instructing, improving methods, discipline and coaching) and support companies all over the world in embedding these skills into their daily operations practices. 

Our time-proven training programs develop not just awareness and knowledge but practical, hands-on skills that your front-line leaders apply straight away to generate hard, fast results and build long-lasting habits that transform their way of leading and working.

What can we do to help you grow High-Performance Supervisors & improve performance?

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