Most of my clients ask me: “What should our leaders be doing“? They’re looking for tangible actions that direct their leaders in this lean environment they are trying very hard to create. They want a recipe to follow—a magic wand to be waved for the transformation to suddenly happen. I wish it were that easy. But as many of you know this isn’t the case. Lean has to be lived, felt, seen, and experienced. Lean must be backed up by high-level leadership walking the walk.
When I was at Toyota the Japanese trainers would commonly use the word “behave”. To me that sounded like advice for grade school, but when I thought more deeply about what they seemed to be saying I realized that action can be interpreted as a behavior—which is what I believe they were talking about.
So my quick response to this question is that lean leadership requires a way of living, of behaving—as opposed to simply doing. I’ve coined an acronym to help communicate this, which I call GTS². What does this stand for you may ask? Well let’s remember it and start to spread it, its essential if you are trying to transform your company with lean thinking.
Here is the behavior:
Go to See & Grasp the Situation! GTS ²
The starting point for any lean thinking (and the beginning of producing an A3) is Go To See (GTS), which can also be captured as Go To the Source (GTS). This habit is very hard to form, since we tend to rely on assumptions formed from our experience or from what someone has told us based on “tribal knowledge”. My Japanese trainers would often say to me “Please–Go Looking!!” They may have known just a minimal amount of English but we knew what they meant. When I visit the Gemba with clients they can only rarely answer my questions because they don’t have the facts. They have many assumptions, but not the facts. It is only when we Go To See that we can uncover the truth.
But remember how this is GTS²? That’s because learning to see is just the beginning. Once we GO SEE, we must then Grasp The Situation. How do you grasp the situation? By asking the right questions! When I work with others as a trainer I share many questions with them to ask. For now let’s begin with the 2 most essential questions a company and their leaders (at every level) should be asking:
What should be happening? (Ideal State or Standard)
What is currently happening? (Current state)
The first question is aimed at defining the Ideal State, or Standard. And the second question defines your Current State. Consider your Problem as the gap between these two conditions. These 2 questions should always be quantified! For example:
Productivity should be at 95%
Current productivity is at 85%
This will give us a 10% gap that we will begin to breakdown and ask further questions!
From my experience as a consultant of 13 years now, I find that most companies I work with (even ones that you may think should know) can’t answer those two questions. They don’t track the information or are simply in the habit of making assumptions, and as a result they cannot frame a problem as a simple gap between what should be happening and what is actually occurring.
Because I was essentially raised with this thinking at Toyota, these simple questions feel natural to me. But I constantly find that helping others develop this behavior—especially leaders—is challenging. Far too many people are running around trying to fight fires or make fixes based on loose assumptions. This type of problem solving is weak at best, and surely not repeatable for long-term sustainability.
So in response to the question of what lean leaders must do, I will respond by suggesting they consider GTS². The challenge is less about doing lean than being lean—a way of thinking that starts by Going to See, and then Grasping the Situation. This won’t feel natural at first but it can be learned. GTS² works, try it!