Bridging the Gap: Convincing Traditional Manufacturing Leaders to Embrace Lean Daily Management.



After reading this article, you will learn about the challenges faced when introducing Lean Daily Management in the manufacturing sector, particularly focusing on overcoming resistance from traditional leaders. I emphasize the need to understand the mindset of these leaders, who often adopt a command-and-control style rooted in decades of experience. I will explore the reasons behind their resistance, citing a lack of formal leadership training and a focus on reactive crisis management. I’ll share strategic approaches, such as linking Lean to business goals, highlighting measurable impacts on key performance indicators (KPIs), and framing Lean as a proactive strategy that will help you be successful. I also emphasize the importance of education, open dialogue, and showcasing success stories, along with practical steps like pilot programs for implementation. Any manufacturer seriously embracing Lean Daily Management must shift towards a data-driven decision-making and iterative refinement of processes culture. By navigating these challenges collaboratively, organizations can lead a successful transformation towards efficiency, innovation, and operational excellence in Lean Daily Management.

Did You Know?

  • Manufacturing leaders spend between 30-50% of their time firefighting.
  • Poor leadership is attributed to 32% of an organization’s voluntary turnover.
  • Two in five Americans rate their boss as “bad.”

Key Takeaways

Understanding Traditional Leadership Traditional leaders in manufacturing often adopt a command-and-control style, leading to disengagement among employees. Recognizing this legacy is crucial for addressing resistance.
Resistance Many traditional leaders ascend to their roles without formal leadership training, relying on intuition and past experiences. Understanding their perspective is vital to overcoming resistance to change.
Linking to Business Goals To gain buy-in, establish a clear connection between Lean Daily Management and overarching business goals. Showcasing how Lean principles contribute to efficiency, problem-solving, and quality can help traditional leaders see the value.
Impact on KPIs Measurable outcomes matter. Demonstrate how Lean positively influences key performance indicators (KPIs) such as production efficiency, on-time delivery, and customer satisfaction to sway traditional leaders.
Proactive Approach Position Lean Daily Management as a proactive, preventive strategy. Traditional leaders may appreciate the idea of addressing issues before they escalate, showcasing the benefits of early identification and corrective action.
Education and Training Invest in education and training to bridge the knowledge gap. Traditional leaders may have misconceptions about Lean, and comprehensive training can demystify principles and provide practical tools.
Open Dialogue Encourage open dialogue where traditional leaders can express concerns and ask questions. Addressing apprehensions transparently fosters collaboration and creates a safe space for idea sharing.
Success Stories Peer influence is powerful. Share success stories from peer organizations that have successfully implemented Lean Daily Management. Peer testimonials and case studies can inspire confidence.
Pilot Programs Instead of a large-scale overhaul, start with pilot programs for small-scale implementation. Allowing traditional leaders to witness impact firsthand and gradually expand can ease resistance.
Decision-Making In a Lean Daily Management environment, leaders should know their numbers and follow an iterative process of refining and enhancing processes. Proactively address emerging concerns for sustained success.

In manufacturing, where modern-day manufacturing management started, we have made considerable gains in efficiency and performance. However, based on my observations here in the U.S., we still have significant opportunities to get others to buy into management systems such as Lean.

I learned this from a mentor, a former Toyota executive, very early in my career; he would tell me: “When you explain to the executives that you’ll help them increase capacity, reduce costs, eliminate quality problems, and deliver on time, they get it. Their attitudes say, when can you start?

Where you’re going to have a challenge is with the middle managers. When you explain all that, they’ll ask: “Who are you?” and “How are you going to do that?” In my career, I’ve faced that predicament many times.

“Manufacturing Leaders: If you tolerate a competent jerk, you’ll eventually regret it. Guaranteed.”

I’ve given it some thought, and here’s my explanation: These folks have made a career in manufacturing, often spanning decades. They have worked their way up, sometimes from an operator position. I once worked with a Plant Manager who started as a janitor. Very admirable if you ask me. However, it took some effort and a persistent, hard-nosed, no-nonsense leader to get this person to support our improvement efforts.

These folks, which I call traditional leaders, have gotten to where they are, based on what they know. The first thing they’ll think is, “Who are you to come tell me how to do my job?” “What do you know about my industry?” “I don’t trust this new person, ” and God forbid you don’t have any gray hair on your head; they’ll start assuming you come straight out of college and only know what the books will teach you.

“Buy in to improvement should never be optional. Period.”

I hope that painted a picture of why we have so much resistance and what is the initial obstacle you’re going to find. Let’s delve further into understanding this line of thought because that’s the only way we’ll get them on our side: Understanding them and meeting them where they’re at.

1. Understanding Traditional Leadership in Manufacturing

1.1 The Legacy of Traditional Leadership

Traditional leadership in manufacturing is often associated with a command-and-control leadership style. Along with many other poor leadership behaviors that lead to employee disengagement. No wonder we have employee engagement surveys saying only 35% of employees are engaged in their work. Everyone else is just there for the check or trying to find a way to get away from that environment.

Read this infographic to learn more about the cost of employee disengagement.

I know that sounds bad, but consider that this leadership style has worked well for many of these leaders. They have all the control, make all the decisions, and in their minds, they are very good at leading people, mostly because no one dares to tell them.

I’ll add one more theory. In my observation, many of these leaders have a mistaken definition of their leadership role. My observation is that they see the purpose of their role as guardians of the production areas. Whenever a fire breaks out, their job is to deal with the fire and get things back to normal. Never mind making sure the issue doesn’t happen again, these folks are focused on the then and now, meaning that specific instance. Anything beyond that is pie in the sky.

Watch this video to learn more about the differences between Traditional Leaders & Lean Leaders.

I can almost understand this line of thinking because we get a thrill when we solve a crisis. Not only that, we get admiration, and the leaders see you as a “go-getter,” a “hard worker,” and the like. Ah, that is how the addiction to the heroic recovery is born, also known as the hero syndrome.

Read this infographic to learn more about the cost of poor leadership.

I’ll tell you more: I feel we can’t even blame many of these folks for this line of thinking. Here is why, when I meet manufacturing leaders in many of these manufacturing businesses, I find two trends: 1. Many of these leaders are given leadership positions for the wrong reasons (i.e., they were exceptional workers, they were convenient), and 2. These folks never received any leadership training.

“Understand that worker skills are not the same as leadership skills.”

Now that we understand their line of thinking and how sometimes we create our own problems, let’s delve into how we observe the resistance.

Read this article to learn more about why Manufacturers have a poor leadership team.

1.2 The Reasons Behind Change Resistance

Many traditional leaders hold leadership roles not because they applied for them or they aspired to lead a team but often because they were persuaded to accept these roles and the perks that come with them. When we add to this that these individuals:

  • Never received formalized leadership or operations management training.
  • Only have another traditional leader as a frame of reference for leadership behaviors.
  • Are seldom coached or provided feedback about their leadership effectiveness.

“Firefighting and reactive management kill manufacturing businesses every day.”

This is a common trend I find primarily in mid-level leadership positions (managers, supervisors, and leads) within manufacturing businesses. Nonetheless, these trends are also found in higher-level and even executive-level leaders.

Watch this video to learn more about how to get buy-in from your team.

With this said, I wanted to share the thought process and underlying beliefs I have observed from these leaders:

  • They feel their role is to watch production, deal with abnormalities, and restore normalcy.
  • There is no need to dig into root causes for issues.
  • Metrics and procedures are unnecessary paperwork that becomes a burden.
  • Decisions are made on intuition and past experiences (no consideration for data).
  • Employees should focus on production. Time away from their areas (solving problems, training, coaching others) is production time lost and, therefore, a waste.
  • Recurring issues are dealt with by scolding employees and asking them to “pay more attention” and to “be more careful.”
  • An obliviousness to the leader’s role in building trust, credibility, and respect within the team is noticeable by displayed negative behaviors (favoritism, micromanaging, arrogance, bullying, not listening, etc.)

Read this article to learn 8 Ways Manufacturing Leaders make time to work ON the business.

Drawing from the above-explained beliefs and the circumstances for many leaders to obtain leadership roles, we can conclude that traditional leaders are accustomed to established routines and structures, and this may lead them to exhibit resistance to change. The prospect of adopting a Lean Daily Management approach, with its emphasis on real-time problem-solving, continuous improvement, and employee empowerment, can be met with skepticism. Convincing traditional leaders of the benefits and efficacy of Lean Daily Management requires a strategic and empathetic approach.

2. Building the Case for Lean Daily Management​

2.1 Linking Lean Daily Management to Business Goals.

One of the first steps in getting buy-in from traditional leaders is to establish a clear link between Lean Daily Management and business goals. Emphasize how the principles of Lean, such as waste reduction, improved efficiency, problem-solving, and enhanced quality, directly contribute to achieving overarching objectives. Demonstrating the alignment between Lean Daily Management and strategic goals lays the foundation for acceptance. Help them understand that this management system is not arbitrarily picked, but they are necessary for the health of the business. One approach we recommend is to describe the concept of leading vs lagging indicators. Explain that operational performance (safety, quality, delivery, and cost) is a leading indicator of financial performance. In other words, if we work safely, produce a quality product, deliver it on time, and work efficiently, the business will flourish and grow.

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2.2 Highlighting the Impact on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the Bottom Line.

Traditional leader’s line of thinking can be more effectively impacted by measurable outcomes. Showcase how Lean Daily Management positively influences key performance indicators such as production efficiency, on-time delivery, and customer satisfaction. Utilize case studies and examples from within the industry to illustrate the tangible improvements achieved by organizations that have embraced Lean principles in their daily operations. Also, highlight your own improvement opportunities by sharing the monetized value of your results. For instance, scrap or rework dollars, sales lost because orders were late, and so on. If necessary, show them how their region, plant, department, or area directly contributes to unsatisfactory results.

Read this article to learn more about 5 Consequences for Manufacturers when Accepting Poor Performance.

2.3 Framing Lean Daily Management as a Proactive Approach

Position Lean Daily Management as a proactive and preventive strategy rather than a reactive one. In an experiment we conducted years ago we asked leaders to log in where they spend their time for two weeks. Here is what it looked like:

Notice the amount of time spent firefighting. This time allocation for these leaders rings true in most cases. Leaders spend time:

  • Prioritizing schedules (“hotlists”)
  • Chasing Parts (purchased parts, components, subs …)
  • Finding material, tools, material handlers …
  • “Keeping people busy.”
  • “Firefight”

How much time do your supervisors/managers spend “identifying waste”?

“In many manufacturing businesses, supervisors/managers are glorified expeditors or firefighters.”

Traditional leaders may appreciate the idea of addressing issues before they escalate into larger problems. Illustrate how the daily management process allows for early identification of issues, enabling swift corrective actions and preventing the recurrence of challenges.

3. Overcoming Resistance: Strategies for Obtaining Buy-In

3.1 Education and Training Initiatives

Invest in education and training initiatives to bridge the knowledge gap. Traditional leaders may harbor misconceptions about Lean Daily Management, viewing it as a departure from established norms. Offering comprehensive training sessions, workshops, and access to relevant resources can demystify Lean principles and provide leaders with the tools they need to understand and implement the approach. Some leaders may benefit from hands-on mentoring and workshops that model the right behaviors; these activities will help them visualize what their new daily routines need to look like and how their mindsets need to shift.

“If you invest 1% into leader development, don’t expect 100% leadership effectiveness.”

3.2 Impact their Thinking Through Open Dialogue

Engage leaders in an open dialogue where traditional leaders can express their concerns and ask questions. Addressing apprehensions directly and transparently fosters a sense of collaboration and creates a safe environment for idea sharing. Traditional leaders are more likely to embrace change when they feel heard, understood, and included in the decision-making process.

Watch this video where I break down how to have this type of conversation and change a culture.

As explained in the video, attempt to disrupt their line of thinking. This may take time and several iterations, but once you enable self-discovery and realization, the light bulbs will go on.

3.3 Showcasing Success Stories from Peers

Peer influence can be a powerful motivator. Share success stories from peer organizations that have successfully implemented Lean Daily Management. Highlighting how similar organizations have navigated the transition and reaped the benefits can serve as compelling evidence. Peer testimonials, case studies, and benchmarking can inspire confidence in the efficacy of Lean principles. Never discard taking your team on a benchmarking trip so they can experience first-hand the benefits and hear from the people living it how Lean Daily Management has helped their business.

4. Integrating Lean Daily Management into the Organizational Culture

4.1 Fostering a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Position Lean Daily Management as a catalyst for fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Traditional leaders may be more receptive to a model that encourages ongoing enhancement rather than a radical departure from existing practices. Emphasize the incremental nature of Lean Daily Management and how it aligns with the organization’s commitment to continual progress.

Read this article to learn how to create and sustain a Lean Manufacturing Culture

Illustrate some of the changes by sharing what their day should look like:

  • Monitoring Performance
  • Identifying abnormalities
  • Solving Problems’ Root Causes
  • Enforcing Standard Work
  • Engaging staff in identifying and eliminating waste
  • Empowering staff to make changes
  • Coaching staff on concepts
  • Benchmarking

“The mindset shifts from constantly chasing problems to working on preventing problems.”

4.2 Empowering Frontline Employees

Highlight the empowerment aspect of Lean Daily Management, especially in empowering frontline employees. Traditional leaders may appreciate the idea of distributed decision-making and problem-solving capabilities throughout the organization. Showcase how Lean principles empower employees to contribute ideas, take ownership of their work, and actively participate in the improvement process.

“Ask questions that make your people think. Engage their minds, not only their hands.”

The idea is that frontline employees should be equally engaged in problem-solving activities. This shift will prove to remove the burden of having to solve all problems.

4.3 Positioning Lean as a Strategic Necessity

Convince traditional leaders that Lean Daily Management is not merely a trendy methodology but a strategic necessity for staying competitive in the market. “

“The staying power of this claim will be completely dependent on your commitment level and consistency.”

Illustrate how industry trends are moving towards more agile, responsive, and adaptive manufacturing models. Positioning Lean as a strategic imperative rather than an optional initiative can shift the perception of traditional leaders.

Read this Infographic to learn how to make the case for Lean manufacturing.

5. Implementing Lean Daily Management: Practical Steps

5.1 Pilot Programs for Small-Scale Implementation

Rather than proposing a large-scale overhaul, consider implementing Lean Daily Management through pilot programs. Select a specific department or production line for a small-scale implementation. This approach allows traditional leaders to witness the impact firsthand, address concerns in a controlled environment, and gradually expand the implementation based on observed successes. In some cases, we have started by implementing some changes, allowing the team to adapt and later implementing more. Try to gauge the amount of change your team can absorb at one time.

Read this article to learn 10 Reasons Why Lean Manufacturing Transformations Fail.

5.2 Establishing Clear Communication Channels

Communication is key in navigating change. Establish clear communication channels to keep traditional leaders informed about the progress of Lean Daily Management initiatives. Regular updates, progress reports, and forums for discussions ensure that leaders are aware of the positive changes and can address any emerging issues promptly.

5.3 Encouraging Leadership Involvement in Gemba Walks

Gemba walks involve leaders actively engaging with frontline employees in their work environment. Encourage traditional leaders to participate in Gemba walks regularly. This firsthand exposure allows leaders to gain insights, understand challenges faced by employees, and actively contribute to the problem-solving process. It also reinforces the message that leadership is engaged and committed to Lean principles. Ensure the processes are followed and enforced; the last thing you want is for leaders to learn from poor examples.

6. Measuring Success: Key Performance Indicators for Lean Daily Management

6.1 Tracking Improvements in Efficiency

Efficiency gains are a primary outcome of Lean Daily Management. Measure improvements in production efficiency, cycle times, and resource utilization. Clearly demonstrate how the Lean approach is contributing to streamlined processes and reduced waste. Document before and after results, pictures, and employee testimonials.

Read this article to learn how to encourage your team to implement improvements.

6.2 Monitoring and Rewarding Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

Lean principles emphasize the importance of engaged and satisfied employees. Use metrics such as employee satisfaction surveys, retention rates, and participation in improvement initiatives to gauge the impact of Lean Daily Management on the workforce. Engaged employees are more likely to embrace and sustain Lean practices. Also, engage in informal one-on-one dialogue with employees so you can get better insights. Develop awards to reward engaged employees (i.e., Best improvement, best performance, highest savings, etc.)

6.3 Evaluating the Effect on Quality Metrics

Quality is a common concern in manufacturing. Evaluate the impact of Lean Daily Management on quality metrics such as defect and rework rates, customer complaints, and adherence to quality standards. Tangible improvements in product quality serve as a compelling indicator of the success of Lean initiatives.

7. Adapting to Evolving Challenges: Continuous Improvement in Lean Daily Management

7.1 Embracing Data-Driven Decision-Making

Traditional leaders may be accustomed to making decisions based on opinions or experience. While these are not to be discarded, they should also be accompanied by data and facts.

“Leaders should embrace the mindset of managing a business within the business.”

In a Lean Daily Management environment, leaders should know their numbers cold, and they should be able to walk you through performance trends and countermeasures implemented to contain issues.

7.2 Iterative Refinement of Processes

Lean principles embrace the concept of continuous improvement. Illustrate how Lean Daily Management involves an iterative process of refining and enhancing existing processes. The process leaders should follow is:

  1. Plan – Create a plan to hit your targets.
  2. Do – Execute the plan while monitoring results and potential reasons for success or failure.
  3. Check – Evaluate results, identify root causes, and develop countermeasures.
  4. Act – Implement countermeasures to the plan and re-starting the cycle.

Traditional leaders may find comfort in the notion that Lean is not a one-time change but a journey of ongoing enhancement.

“Lean is not a game of yards; it’s a game of inches.”

Read this article to learn how manufacturing leaders increase execution and profitability using Lean Daily Management.

7.3 Addressing Emerging Concerns Proactively

As Lean Daily Management is implemented, concerns may arise about not having enough time to complete all the tasks, too many numbers, too much paperwork, etc.

Proactively address these concerns by soliciting feedback, conducting regular reviews, providing support and resources, and making adjustments as needed. A proactive approach demonstrates the organization’s commitment to addressing challenges promptly and ensuring the sustained success of Lean initiatives.

Watch this video to learn the right mindset about continuous improvement:

8. Conclusion: Navigating the Transition to Lean Daily Management

The transition to Lean Daily Management represents a paradigm shift that necessitates the buy-in of traditional leaders. Convincing these leaders to embrace change requires a strategic approach that aligns Lean principles with organizational goals, addresses concerns transparently, and showcases the tangible benefits of a Lean approach. As organizations navigate this transition, the collaborative effort between traditional leaders and advocates of Lean Daily Management becomes the cornerstone for a successful and sustainable transformation. Through education, engagement, and a commitment to continuous improvement, manufacturers can bridge the gap and lead their organizations toward a future of heightened efficiency, innovation, and operational excellence. The effectiveness, as mentioned above, will be dependent on the organization’s commitment to making the shift; making Lean Daily Management the bar that all leaders need to measure up to and coming up short is not acceptable.

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