Most of my articles in 2014 focused on three successful lean transformations, and the launch of a fourth soon to be successful one. Signature Wood Systems, Busby Cabinets, and Hunter Trim and Cabinets are attaining new heights in productivity improvement, increased profit, and business growth by applying lean thinking and the 6Es to every area of their business. It is both rewarding and reassuring to be able to see companies from our industry growing and thriving, rather than shrinking and disappearing.
Why are they achieving success while other companies are closing their doors and auctioning off assets? The answer can be found in both the owner’s vision for a bright future and the owner’s approach to getting there.

Boss can’t do it all

Brad, Scott, Dustin, and now Chris and Joan, recognize that although they are the boss and they possess great skills, expertise, and abilities in a variety of fields, they also have limitations. To a visionary entrepreneur, limitations are not considered weaknesses. I believe that when a person recognizes that he can’t do it all by himself, he has taken the first step toward breakthrough improvement. From there it is a matter of exercising good leadership to engage all of the company’s resources in achieving the desired results.
Brad Cairns of Signature Wood Systems (SWS) is a great example of a visionary business owner who tried to do it all – run his business, develop new sales, satisfy current customers, and transform SWS to the lean business model. Even though he had the passion, energy, knowledge, and the determination to lead the change process, he recognized that practical experience in applying lean tools and techniques, and the ability to communicate lean thinking effectively across the enterprise would be limitations in SWS’s successful transformation.

Two steps to success

Brad, and the others as well, concluded that they needed to do two things. First, they had to partner with someone outside the company who possessed the skills and abilities to facilitate, coach, and mentor them and their staff through the change process. Then they had to commit to bringing every person on their respective staffs into that partnership also.
I don’t mean that they had to relinquish any financial ownership of the company to their employees, but they had to understand that each employee was the owner of the process that he or she performed and that each employee’s ability to apply lean thinking within that process is essential in the quest for the company to become all it can possibly be.


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Standing in your way

When Brad saw the transformation unfolding in the dramatic manner that it did, he realized one other important fact that had escaped his attention in the 20 years that he had owned SWS. He realized that he had actually been standing in his own way to the goals he was striving to achieve. His own pride of ownership stymied the creative and innovative genie that was residing, untapped, in each of his employees. Brad had always been the decision-maker. He was proud of what he had accomplished and was protective of the position SWS had attained in the marketplace.
Does that sound uncomfortably familiar? Are you standing in your own way in your quest to achieve the success that you frustratingly pursue?

Battalion lesson

When I was an officer in the Army, I had a Battalion Commander who had a perspective on the role and authority of leadership at every level of the organization. I think it is important to share that perspective with you. The Battalion was comprised of five companies – Headquarters Company, three combat maneuver companies, and one combat support company. I commanded Headquarters Company.
Before I assumed command, the Battalion Commander called me to his office to lay out his expectation of me, and the objectives he had for the Battalion. His guidance was pretty simple. He reminded me that as the Battalion Commander he owned a fleet of vehicles – the five companies – and he was entrusting the keys for one of them to me. I didn’t own that vehicle, but I was responsible for maintaining it to his high standards, and for integrating it into the larger organization to form a formidable fighting force.
I followed the same protocol with my subordinate section and platoon leaders. By empowering every level of the organization to apply their varying expertise to achieve a common mission we were able to not only meet expectations, but to attain higher levels of combat readiness. The Battalion Commander was the facilitator of the team process. He wasn’t the doer, and he didn’t call every shot from the shadows. He knew his strengths and his limitations and he got out of his own way so the whole unit could be successful.

Partners in quality

I know there are entrepreneurs in our industry who share Brad’s pride of ownership and I understand their dilemma in determining how to maintain control while relinquishing some authority to others to move the company to a new level. That is the audience I hope to reach with this article.
Hopefully you can agree with my contention that you don’t really control your business as much as you think. Yes, you set policy and you might even reserve all decision-making for yourself, but, unless you run a one-man operation, you don’t operate the machines, purchase the materials, assemble the product, or pack and deliver it. Those processes are owned by the people who work for you and their output is likely based on as much pride of ownership as you exhibit.
They are partners in the mission of delivering a quality experience to the customer. The secret to achieving the lofty dreams and objectives that you establish for the company resides in their hearts, hands, and minds. If you fail to tap into that reservoir of knowledge and ability you will never see your company achieve the greatness you aspire to. And, unless you are a person of exceptional communication skills, you won’t tap that reservoir without professional assistance.
When you make the decision to get out of your way and share the responsibility of moving the company to a higher level of capability, you don’t have to turn over the ownership of the vehicle; you only have to authorize others to use the keys while operating within established boundaries. I’m confident that you will be well pleased with the vehicle’s new luster, power, and performance when the keys are returned at the end of each trip.
Are you standing in your own way?

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