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Kaizen Skills of an Operations Leader

By Jon Miller Updated on May 16th, 2017

Stephen Ondoro is a newly appointed operations leader who asked:

I have been chosen as an operations leader yet it has not been clarified as to the role and scope. What kaizen skills do i need to lead my team successfully? Please take me through some lesson.

Let’s Start with the Basics

There are many kaizen tools and skills you will find explained in this blog and in those listed to the right of this page in the Blogroll section. More important to the effectiveness new operations leader are the following three actions:

1. Model the behaviors they want to see in those who follow you. If you want punctuality from your team members, always be on time. If you want a clean workplace, never hesitate to lift a broom or pick up a piece of trash on the floor. In other words, lead by example. No gesture is too small, as these have a combined effect over time. Every action is like an advertisement and a marketing and ad man will tell you it takes a minimum 7 exposures to an ad for a viewer to retain the message. This is a passive way of teaching but small, deliberate actions can speak more clearly than loud and fancy words.

2. Work through teams to set and achieve goals, solve problems and learn in the process. In the lean thinking philosophy we say “a leader is a teacher”. A leader is only as good as their team, so unless you are blessed with a brilliant team, you can only succeed by helping your team mates increase their skills and knowledge.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate through a process of listening, speaking, doing to make your goals and intentions known well in advance. Even when the people following you don’t completely agree with what you are saying, if you are fair, open and honest at least they will trust and rely on your word. Once you demonstrate credibility by proving that you are there to help them succeed, they will take more interest in your communication and facilitate it by providing you with useful communication, feedback, and ideas for improvement.

Is There A Manual for an Operations Leader? Actually…

But what of specific skills in leading teams, communicating and modeling behaviors? Instead of filling more space from my own experience I will point you to the source that Toyota turned to nearly 60 odd years ago when they faced the need to train their operations leaders to be effective. It was TWI – Training Within Industry – an approach promoted by the U.S. Department of War in order to rapidly train supervisors in job instruction, job methods design, job relations among workers and job safety during World War II. My favorite resource on this is the Training Within Industry blog. Visit this site for a generous serving of free and highly useful information to get you started.
Here is a quick navigation guide. Click on one of these red buttons on the top left of the page.

And among the useful information here, you will find a link to a Adobe Acrobat PDF of the original TWI manuals available for download. Download the Adobe Acrobat Reader here if you don’t have it.

Like this one on Job Instruction. It’s worth owning a copying and studying. Be sure to check out all of the other manuals as Job Instruction is just one of several key skills for an operations leader.

Operations Leaders, Speak Up
For those of you who have gone down this path and have learned your lessons (the easy way or the hard way), what is your best piece of advice to a new operations leader?

  1. Mike

    February 5, 2009 - 11:17 am

    Gain and keep credibility. Do this by answering questions honestly–even when it means you must say “I don’t know” or “I can not discuss that.” Treat others fairly, which does NOT mean THE SAME ALL THE TIME. Empower others–teach, coach, define the boundaries, give responsibility and authority, let people stretch themselves, don’t micromanage them, and communicate with them freely. Ask for help from your employees. Get them involved UP FRONT with all improvements. Improve the things THEY think need improving first. Listen to the people who do the work. However, do not let them “run” you. You must be the leader.
    Don’t fall off your balance beam!

  2. Scott

    February 6, 2009 - 5:15 am

    Credibility is earned it never comes with the job title. Secondly if you say you “Don’t know”, make sure you get back to that person with the answer as that is a crutial step to earning credibility. In addition it is not what you say but how you say it. Misinterpetation is dis-information.

  3. Rob L.

    February 10, 2009 - 5:48 am

    Make small but relevant change each week. From my “rocky” experience in Kaizen, I have learned that maintaining momentum is critical to ongoing change.

  4. Bryan Lund

    July 22, 2011 - 6:51 pm

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for the link and nice write up of the TWI website. So many people continue to learn and improve as individuals and with their peers in the organization using these simple skills.
    It sounds cheesy, but this stuff has really changed my outlook on work, life and how to work with people.
    Keep up the great work and congratulations on all of your recent success!

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