Lean Thinker Challenge #9

By Ron Pereira Updated on September 2nd, 2016

Welcome to another edition of the Lean Thinker Challenge! It’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these and I’m excited to hear what you think!

The Situation

You’ve worked at the same company for 4 years as a Lean Specialist. You don’t especially like your formal title since the word “specialist” is used… but it is what it is.

The company consists of around 100 people.  Total annual revenue is around $32 million. You’re the only dedicated lean specialist in the company but others definitely join in with kaizen events, projects, etc. But, from a full time perspective, you’re the only dedicated resource.

Your normal duties consist of teaching other associates about lean and six sigma through workshops and formal classes that run from a few days to a few weeks. You also facilitate kaizen events and coach others through their own projects.

You’ve seen some success and people don’t run the other way when they see you coming around the corner. In fact, there are times when people approach you for advice or flat out ask for your help. You love this part of your job.

The Challenge

Unfortunately, there is one aspect of your job that’s less than ideal… your boss.

When they created your role they didn’t know where to put you so they decided to have you report to the VP of Sales & Operations. Now, to be fair, your boss is a nice enough guy but, unfortunately, he’s never really bought into the whole “lean thing.”

And, most recently, you even overheard him make a sarcastic comment about how we should just “lean every process out so all our problems go away.” His tone and attitude let you know he wasn’t serious and you just couldn’t help but wonder where the negativity is coming from.

How should you handle the situation? Should you engage your boss somehow or just ignore the situation and hope he simply comes around?  After all, you do have a job that’s paying the bills.

What do you think?

  1. Brad Jones

    September 2, 2016 - 8:17 am

    I’d see if I could understand why he is against it. Chances are he doesn’t understand what Lean is about and may be intimidated so putting it down is nothing more than an emotional response to his own insecurity.

  2. Norma Tomlins

    September 2, 2016 - 10:00 am

    It has to be addressed. Beginning with clarifying what I heard and what he meant and taking the conversation forward from there.

    • Ron Pereira

      September 2, 2016 - 11:35 am

      Thanks for the comments, Brad and Norma!

  3. Kelly

    September 2, 2016 - 12:07 pm

    Is it solely the responsibility of the lean specialist to address the issue? If he/she is the only one supporting the efforts, the probability of success is low – or at the very least, slow. There will be other ‘bosses’ that probably need convincing. Where does their boss sit on this issue? Perhaps the problem is that this bigger boss is just sitting.

    • Ron Pereira

      September 2, 2016 - 12:47 pm

      Great points, Kelly. Just for the sake of fun… and exploration… let’s just say we’re talking about a company of 100 people total with an annual revenue $32 million. Let’s also assume we’re the only dedicated lean specialist in the company but others definitely join in with kaizen events, projects, etc. But, from a full time perspective, we’re the only dedicated resource.

      • Ron Pereira

        September 2, 2016 - 12:49 pm

        Oh, and regarding our bosses boss… let’s assume we don’t know where they stand. Let’s also assume the CEO approved this position which is why the position exists. I’ll add these details to the article for others.

  4. Dave LaVally

    September 2, 2016 - 1:07 pm

    Other conversations beyond the boss may be needed since support from the highest level is very important. You have to start with the boss to understand his perspective and resistance. I would meet with him on a regular basis, and see if he will support one or two good improvement ideas. Gaining his support upfront would be a win for all parties. Also, nothing speaks louder than results, especially if the boss gets positive feedback from others on the leadership team.

  5. Jason Morin

    September 2, 2016 - 1:17 pm

    Words don’t convince executives…numbers do. Don’t waste time trying to persuade him…show him. I’d find out exactly what his pains are and then apply Lean to help mitigate those pains. Don’t ask permission…just go do it. If a certain customer is beating him up constantly on service performance or cost, get to the Gemba and work with the team to improve performance. Then *quantify* the results in numbers that he and the customer care about it. Do this over and over until he becomes a believer. Build a library of internal Lean case studies that are refutable to anyone. Work closely with those that you have trained and build success stories around their successes.

    • Desiree Wyatt

      September 3, 2016 - 3:52 pm

      GREAT reply !

  6. Gary Beaudette

    September 2, 2016 - 5:56 pm

    I would ask for a 1 on 1 performance review. I would ask him to update my: job description, purpose, goals, leader standardized work, and ask for regular reviews.

  7. Kapil

    September 2, 2016 - 11:19 pm

    Thanks for such a nice and practical case study .
    What i personally suppose the lean expert must take this as an excellent fresh opportunity to break the ice in Sales & Operations department to creap in the plans for process wise waste identification and mapping.
    He must take this on a serious note and call the complete team to work in line with the thought of the management .
    This will surely engage his VP when others will work inline with his directions.
    A win win situation for both.

  8. Jon Miller

    September 3, 2016 - 9:32 pm

    What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?
    Supposing there is a pattern of behavior such as sarcasm – so what? How does this affect the success of lean? If there is no cause and effect, leave it alone.
    What matters is what the boss does, not what he says or how he says it.

    • Ron Pereira

      September 6, 2016 - 8:57 am

      You killed our buzz and all the comments, Jon! Ha! With this said, I’ve been this “employee” who had a crappy, sarcastic, boss and it burned me out and made me, eventually, leave the organization. Perhaps I should have toughened up… but I didn’t and the company eventually lost an employee who would have done anything to help them improve. Motivation is real. BTW, sarcasm (Greek sarkasmos) literally means to “to strip off the flesh.” Not good. Stripping off flesh is never good.

  9. Mike

    September 9, 2016 - 6:12 am

    I love Jason’s reply. Show the Boss over and over again, the gains made by applying Lean in a numbers format. Build that library of case studies. The Boss answers to someone, and he will figure out you’re making him look good, and that will get him on board. I’ve had to deal with characters like this many times. Unfortunatly, if it gets too bad, it might be time to move on to a different company.

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