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Annette Franz

Customer Care

Is Your Company Led by Lean Leaders?

Characteristics of successful lean coaches

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 10:45

Last month, I wrote about the concept of lean management and what that means not only for your company but also for your customers.

If company leadership wants to transform the culture of the organization and become a lean company, they’ve first got to understand what comprises lean leadership, and then ask themselves if they “qualify.” In other words, they need to be lean leaders themselves.

What does that mean?

Lean for Dummies (For Dummies, second edition, 2012) outlines the following behaviors of lean leaders.

They know how the business serves the customers by:
• Understanding what customers want, need, and value, or what will thrill them
• Knowing how the business satisfies the customer
• Improving the effectiveness of how the business satisfies the customer

They build ability in their people through:
• Guiding problem solving—root cause, right problem, right resources
• Leading from the gemba
• Asking open-ended, probing questions

They show a continuous improvement mindset by:
• Continually challenging the status quo
• Knowing that there is always room for improvement
• Understanding that the customer changes—what delights today is a necessity tomorrow

They focus on process and results by:
• Obtaining results
• Ensuring that how the results are achieved is the most effective utilization of all resources, in the direction of the ideal state
• Improving how the organization accomplishes results

They demonstrate an understanding of the value stream at a macro and micro level through:
• Knowing what the customer requires and how the value stream satisfies them
• Having knowledge of the overall value stream, including tributaries
• Asking questions when changes are made at the local level to ensure that the team understands how the change will affect the customer and the rest of the value stream

They create a culture to sustain improvement by:
• Identifying, modeling, and encouraging lean behaviors
• Finding the lessons in every “failure”—blame doesn’t foster improvement or innovation
• Respecting and improving standards—questions when the organization is deviating from the standard

I could have stopped right there and claimed to know enough about lean leaders, but I thought I’d take a look at a couple of other sites offering up traits and behaviors of lean leaders to hear some different perspectives.

TBM Consulting Group explains nine behaviors and actions of lean leaders in their white paper, 9 Ways Leaders’ Actions Can Sustain Lean Progress:
1. Communicate the vision
2. Always update standard work
3. Go on gemba walks
4. Build a continuous improvement culture
5. Foster a respectful, team-driven organization
6. Continue to motivate employees
7. Maintain regular training
8. Reinforce performance and progress with metrics and visual-management tools
9. Post continuous improvement scorecards

And, finally, Process Excellence Network shared six traits of lean leaders. They...
1. Embrace the fact that lean is a journey and requires long-term thinking, patience, and a sustainability mindset
2. Relentlessly pursue perfection, which is the essence of kaizen thinking
3. Have a fanatical focus on customers, as they are the beginning and end of everything in lean
4. Champion simplicity, making “find and eliminate waste” their mantra
5. Live gemba, spending time where the work happens, at various employee and customer touchpoints
6. Are authentic, upstanding, and respectful, as lean leaders are coaches who lead by example

As I read the traits from these three sources, I realized that they’ve included all the things we typically preach when it comes to a customer experience/culture transformation. One of my favorite aspects is the notion of gemba (which all three sources have in common), which means going to see where the action happens. If you don't see for yourself, if you don’t understand it, if you don’t gather facts at the point where “it” happens, then you can’t transform it.

How do we develop leaders with these traits or instill these traits into our leaders? If our leaders had them, wouldn’t your job as a customer experience professional be much easier?

There are three kinds of leaders: those who tell you what to do, those who allow you to do what you want, and lean leaders who come down to the work and help you figure it out.
—John Shook


About The Author

Annette Franz’s picture

Annette Franz

Annette Franz, CCXP is founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. She’s got 25 years of experience in both helping companies understand their employees and customers and identifying what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience – so that, together, we can design a better experience for all constituents. She's an author (she wrote the book on customer understanding!), a speaker, and a customer experience thought leader and influencer. She serves as Vice Chairwoman on the Board of Directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), is an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council, and is an Advisory Board member for CX@Rutgers.


Lean Leadership Attributes


Interesting and useful recap of lean leadership qualitites (LLQs) and Toyota system background. Thank you.

Much overlap between LLQs and servant leadership qualities (SLQs).  SLQ assessment survey ready for market.

Room for joint / shared assessment survey tool, LLQs and SLQs combined to help work group leaders and other members look at readiness: individual and work group?

Worth discussing?

Best – Dick Webster <webster.1@osu.edu>