Lean Innovation Leaders

Today’s business leaders face a range of challenges from domestic and international competition to changing consumer needs and global economic turmoil. The demand for innovation, both on the shop floor and in the board room, is strong, meaning that companies must develop new products/processes as well as new business models in order to meet customer demand and overcome economic uncertainty.

Above all, effective Lean Six Sigma innovation leaders build abilities and motivation in employees by demonstrating a continuous improvement mindset which emerges from being present in the center of action and developing a thorough understanding of the customer and the value stream.

Lead from the Centre of Action

The Gemba walk is one of the fundamental principles of Lean Six Sigma management strategies, which stresses going to the center of action to observe, understand and learn. While the idea of Management By Walking Around (MBWA) is not new, the Gemba walk as defined by Taiichi Ohno, a pioneer of Lean methodology, directs leaders to look for waste and improvement opportunities, understand the value stream, and build relationships with employees. The Gemba walk allows leaders to directly observe process standards during operations, assess the conditions of the space and equipment, and analyze safety hazards. This enables leaders to make practical improvements that will create value for the processes and improve operational conditions for the employees.

Respect the People

Respect for employees and partners is a central principle of the Lean Six Sigma philosophy which, above all, regards people’s ability to think, and stems from a fundamental understanding that building people adds infinite value to an organization. Defining this principle in his book titled Workplace Management, Taiichi Ohno explains that “In order to lead a large number of people, you have to be tough when it comes to work. However, I think this is basically not a matter of giving orders or instructions, but a competition of wits with subordinates…And if you lose this competition of wits, you have to swiftly admit it.” This comes down to the belief that leadership engagement with employees through a problem solving process is actually the highest form of respect as it demonstrates to the employees that the manager requires their knowledge to understand the situation and determine the most effective solution. The principle of respect through mutual improvement extends to a company’s network of partners and suppliers. Lean Six Sigma philosophy emphasizes respecting your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve with the goal of growing and benefitting together.

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