There are two contrasting types of leadership present in our industry today and I have encountered both of them in recent weeks. One is what I call “leading at the front” and the other is “leading from the front.” The only real difference is in the execution, but what a difference it can make in the success of a lean transformation.
Brad, the CEO of Signature Wood in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada would be the first to admit that he tried both types of leadership in guiding his company through its transformation. Brad read all of the right books, surfed the Internet for the latest tools and techniques of lean, and attended trade shows to hear from the experts how to succeed in becoming lean. With his brain loaded to maximum capacity he charted a course for Signature, stepped in front of his staff, issued the rally cry, and charged off to create a new and improved company.
It didn’t take too long for him to discover that he was the only one on the road, and his staff had been left in his dust. After a couple of more failed and frustrated attempts to get the staff excited about this new way of doing business that he had chosen for Signature, he decided to try a different approach.


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Taking six steps

Brad had acquired all of the lean wisdom that the marketplace had to offer and is one of the most passionate proponents of lean that I have encountered, but he left out the six most important steps in the transformation process.
•Enlist – GENUINELY seek assistance and cooperation from all of the staff,
•Enable – instill the staff with the knowledge to take the actions necessary to continually improve their processes,
•Engage – get the staff involved in the process of change,
•Excite – stir the staff to activity,
•Empower – authorize every staff person to make change happen in areas that they directly control – within established bounds, and
•Encourage – inspire with confidence, spur the staff to tap into that creative and innovative genie that resides in each one of us, and celebrate successes.
I covered the 6Es in a previous article so I won’t elaborate on them here. The point I want to make is that Brad acquired his lean expertise and planned the implementation in a vacuum. He was “leading at the front” instead of “leading from the front.” His position changed when he understood how to create alignment across the enterprise. Creating alignment is the stage in the lean journey that Joe has arrived at as well, and it is that process that I want to begin to share with you.

Creating alignment

Creating alignment begins with clear, concise, and relatable Vision and Mission statements. Joe’s vision statement contained wording such as, “We will become the most respected manufacturer of cabinetry, furniture, and millwork in the building industry in the United States” and “We will set the industry standard for excellence in customer service, value of product, and provide a good place to work.” Both of those are certainly commendable statements. However, what wording in either of those statements provides the guidance and direction that the staff would need to ensure that those statements become reality? In my opinion, not very many. There is too much air or fluff between and around the words. The statements are vague and elusive.
Every person at Joe’s Cabinet Shop, and at your organization, as well, is routinely required to make decisions about the work they do and how it should be done. How do they know they are making the right decision? How do they know the decision supports the corporate objective? Will the decision move the company forward, sideways, backwards, or have no positive impact on the company at all? These questions can be resolved by creating alignment across the enterprise.

Reframe statements

To determine if your vision and mission statements provide the foundation for your staff to make decisions in keeping with your objectives, ask some of them to tell you what the vision and mission statements are, and, if they know what they are, have them tell you what the statements mean to them? It has been my experience that you will find few people who know what they are and even fewer who can tell you how the statements apply to the work they do. Don’t let the discovery discourage you. Use your findings to assess how you can reframe the statements to be more definitive.
Joe performed just such an assessment of the knowledge and understanding of the company vision and mission statements across all of the disciplines of the enterprise. As is the case in many organizations where the CEO perceives that the vision and mission statements are the hallmark of the organization, Joe was disappointed to discover that there was little awareness of their existence and no one was able to interpolate them in the way that Joe had intended. He recognized the lack of awareness and understanding as a challenge for him, and his leadership team, to revisit the statements and more clearly define the company’s purpose and objectives.
Rather than creating statements of what they want the company to become, the leadership team developed statements about what they do and what they are. The new vision statement is, “Fulfilling cabinetry dreams from conception to completion.” The new mission statement consists of three important points. They are:
•Our customers come first in our endeavors,
•We are the leading innovator of quality cabinetry, furniture, and fine woodworking, and
•We satisfy our clients with an unmatched level of service and dependability, in a timely manner.
Now the vision and mission statements provide every employee with the guidance and direction needed to make decisions in keeping with the corporate objectives. Creating synergy within the new team-based lean culture at Joe’s will be explored in detail in the next article. In preparation for gaining an understanding of how you can create alignment across your organization, I recommend that you do what Joe did - conduct an assessment of the understanding of your company’s vision and mission statements. If you don’t have vision and mission statements, develop them now. You will see how important they are as this series unfolds.

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