The Lean Office Blog

Are You a Lean Manager or Fun Uncle?

Today’s post highlights several ways a Lean manager can develop stronger teams who produce better results.

I dropped my nephew off at his parent’s house a bit later than I had intended, and a lot later than his bedtime. That was just one of the countless rules I had broken over the course of the evening. I had once again fulfilled my duties as “Fun Uncle” Randy, and felt pretty good about the results. Sure, he had a new bump on his head (got a little too serious with the wrestling) and an upset stomach (milkshakes and cookies for dinner), but he’d also had a really fun time. What’s not to like?

My sister called me with a report the next day, and I was shocked. Apparently, my nephew had woken up in a bad mood. He’d also snapped at his sister, and threatened to “body slam” the next person who told him to brush his teeth. Where do kids get these ideas, you know?

It wasn’t until much later – actually, until I had kids of my own – that I realized that maybe “Fun Uncle” Randy wasn’t so much fun, after all. You see, I had swooped in with one goal in mind, and that was to maximize the fun he and I experienced over the course of our time together. Long-term (heck, even next day) results had no place in my thinking or planning. Things like eating your vegetables, doing your chores, and minding your manners were all off the table when I came around. But now? Now those are a big part of my daily life. So what does this have to do with being a Lean Manager?

There’s a tendency for some people in the Lean community to act like the “Fun uncle” manager who comes in, relieves you of your work for the week so you can join a kaizen event, sells you on some high-minded, blue ocean strategies for how things can be improved, and then leaves before the actual work is done. How excited do you think the team members are who get to spend time around these type of managers? For the first few days back in their regular jobs, they’re probably on cloud nine. But then, the real world sets in. Problems still come up every day, and those changes you made fall apart since there wasn’t a Lean Management System in place to help sustain the process. Sound familiar?

A Lean Manager’s Role

A Lean Manger, much like a parent, has to focus on more than improvement projects to help develop a healthy team. Below are five things Lean managers do that help their folks develop the right long-term habits to succeed both individually and as a team.

  • Thrive on stability– Fun uncles say things like, “We don’t have time to document standards-we’re improving things so much, those would just slow us down!” Lean managers recognize that standards are a critical tool in creating stability, and know that a stable environment allows you to quickly see when things are happening outside of the process
  • Daily presence – Fun uncle managers show up randomly and don’t stick around when work gets tough. On the other hand, Lean managers spend a good deal of time with their teams. Have a good day? She/he is there to help celebrate the team’s success. Bad day? Working with the team to figure out what processes broke down or need to be tweaked. Lean managers know that their presence sends a message to the team, and see the value in taking purposeful gemba walks
  • Accountability – Fun uncle managers don’t really like difficult conversations. In fact, they would rather things fall apart than have an awkward moment of holding people accountable. Lean managers recognize that teams function best (and become closer as teams) when everyone is working together, and the best way to ensure that is to hold everyone accountable to their commitmentslean manager lego head
  • Small, incremental improvements – Fun uncles buy their nephews toys years in advance of the recommended age range. Why? They love
    the excitement that comes with playing with something for the first time (even if the LEGO guy’s head may get stuck in a nostril). In the same way, fun uncle managers go for home-run, large-scale improvements. Lean managers recognize that small, incremental improvements are easier to implement for the team, more likely to be sustained, and have less unintended consequences on the rest of the process
  • Use system thinking – Speaking of large-scale improvements, fun uncle managers teach their team to optimize their own work at the expense of those around them. Lean managers recognize that the team’s work effects other teams, and spend time talking with others to understand the entire system.

One last really important note on fun uncle managers – they are really good at doing some things,  like getting the team excited about improving their work and making it fun to show up for work every day. If you can figure out how to incorporate these elements into your Lean Management System, you team will come to see you as the best of both worlds – “Fun Lean Manager” sounds like a great job title to me!

The Lean Office is a software tool designed to help Lean organizations who have moved beyond tools and events, and are implementing their own Lean Management System. Click here to find out more!

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