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How Are We Doing? And Other Questions for the Lean Community from LEI’s New CEO, Eric Buehrens

by Eric Buehrens
October 2, 2017

How Are We Doing? And Other Questions for the Lean Community from LEI’s New CEO, Eric Buehrens

by Eric Buehrens
October 2, 2017 | Comments (2)

Since the beginning of my own lean journey over the last decade, the Lean Enterprise Institute has been to me an iconic organization, the touchstone of learning about this transformative approach to work and management. I never imagined until recently that I'd have the chance to lead it. It's an incredible privilege to do so, and to work alongside John Shook and Jim Womack to continue the important work that they brought into the world.

I've had the good fortune to have a varied career: senior executive roles in government, in the private sector, and in higher education and healthcare. More than many people, I've moved on to new situations, industries, and challenges with some regularity. Looking back on my career, I was looking for lifelong learning and continuous improvement before I was conscious and aware that this was what I was looking for.

So, I approach my new role at LEI first and foremost as a learner. I've been a lean practitioner and leader -- of modest impact. I've sat in the leadership seat for many years, charged with the responsibility of turning big, bureaucratic organizations into learning organizations that practice kaizen and respect the wisdom of the workers who create value for the customer. This work of leadership is not easy, and I hope to be able to teach and assist our colleagues in enterprise leadership and others in learning to see, as I was taught myself. But I'll remain mainly a learner and student, and I'm relishing the opportunity to learn from our amazing U.S. and international lean community, our faculty and partners, and the many others who look to LEI for leadership and guidance on their own lean journeys.

I know as a member of the LEI board that we have great people and a great foundation, and I have a decent understanding of the breadth of the good work that we do -- but I'll have a lot to learn over the next few months. I'll be making my own assessment of the current state of the organization, which is the only way to learn, and doing so by broadly consulting both inside LEI and outside, to those who engage with us in their workplaces, buy our books, attend our events and workshops, follow us online.

My questions to all will be: are we doing what you need us to do to help you advance on your lean journey? Where are we creating value for you? Where are we not? What should we grow and emphasize -- and what should be left behind? In what ways are we on the right path, or need to change and evolve?

A leadership transition is a great time for such a re-evaluation of purpose, process, and people. My task will be to weave together the perspectives from within and without LEI into a consensus about the best role for LEI in the years ahead. Other organizations and leaders in our lean community have their own valuable roles in our movement; LEI's role, like everything else, must necessarily evolve over time. One thing I feel strongly about is that LEI continues and deepens its role as a convener within our community, a place of honest and robust dialogue about what works and what doesn't, where we are making progress and where we are not, and that we must always be outward-facing, open to a variety of views, and enthusiastic about collaboration with others on the same road.

We also have to recognize that the nature of work itself is changing. The manufacturing and service work that most of us grew up in is not going away, but alongside it has emerged a vibrant startup ecosystem, a "gig economy" that poses its own challenges to the humanity of labor, globalization on a scale and pace hard to imagine before the revolution of the internet, and widespread anxiety about the impact of robotics, mass surveillance, and artificial intelligence. Alongside their traditional offerings of accounting, finance, and the tools of "modern management," business schools have added an array of courses in change management, organizational culture, leadership, and emotional intelligence, as they struggle to equip their graduates for a world of breathtaking rapidity, team-based production, and knowledge work that places an ever-greater emphasis on development of people.

In these developments and more, the simple yet profound wisdom of "go see, ask why, and show respect for people" is needed more than ever. Our learned ability to see -- to see the work itself, and how it can be improved, and the potential and contributions of each person who labors each day, is needed more than ever. I'm excited to get to work, and look forward to our learning this new road together.

Keywords:  leadership,  strategy
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Jessie Reyes October 02, 2017
8 People AGREE with this comment

Thank your Eric Buehren for your insightful article on and for the questions you propose in it.  Especially for the question "What should we grow and emphasize ...?" 

LEI has a bigger responsibility than it can ever imagine. It's well beyond manufacturing, business, banking, healthcare, and government. LEI has a potential role in solving the most difficult problems societies face worldwide; conflicts, hunger, housing, disasters, nuclear conflicts, wars, crime, domestic violence, unemployment, lack of ethics ... the list is very long. The connection is LEI is about "Quality" and the problems we continue to see over and over again in the world are still here because of a lack it. Another word everything has "quality" as a foundation element and the lack of it is the cause of most problems we see over and over again in our world.

Because of this LEIs greatest future role has to be in education. Quality science has to be taught by parents to their pre-schoolers. It needs to then continue, kindergarten through high school and into university studies as a progressive required foundational study. LEI and other quality experts like me have tried to take it into education but the resistance is high and roadblocks are many. This is not new or different than when quality science moved out of manufacturing into other disciplines. It took a lot of "push" before we started seeing the "pull". The stakes are too high to accept a lack of effort and results anymore. Only when wwe have a society with a common foundation of quality expertise will we be able to begin solving the greatest problems of this world to save lives and improve quality of life.

Jessie Reyes - Lean 6 Sigma Business Consulting

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Boaz Tamir - ILE October 07, 2017
3 People AGREE with this comment

Thank you Eric for a powerful account and vision.  I’m convinced that your humble leadership approach would play an important role in accomplishing the Lean global community purpose “make the world better place”. The Israel Lean Institute (ILE) community is fully committed to partnering with your leadership, vision and purpose.  

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