Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Boss Coaches Lean Management Behaviors

Early in my career, just a few years out of college, and after demonstrating success with problem solving and process redesign efforts, my boss promoted me to my first management position. As the new Quality and Engineering Manager I had a small group of engineers and a quality supervisor reporting directly to me.
After moving into my new workspace, (a real office with a door and a window!), I organized myself and started to do the job the best way I knew how.
Early on I thought I was off to a satisfactory start until one day this illusion was abruptly interrupted by my boss. He confronted me half way between my office and the manufacturing plant floor where he told me the following in a frustrated voice, “Craig, you don’t understand what I want. I’ve been trying to tell you but you’re not getting it so I am going to put it to you straight. If I catch you out on the floor solving problems again I am going to physically chase you back into your office and I’m going to be angry. I promoted you and now you are a manager – from now on you work through other people to solve problems around here. I know you think your people should be doing some things differently but I refuse to let you step around them. I want you to teach them and coach them to do things the way you want them done. I promoted you because I know you can do this, now I want you to start doing it the way I expect! Do you understand?” I nodded and said yes of course, even though truthfully I was a little confused at the time.
Luckily, soon after, my boss and I sat down and documented, in what today might be called “Lean Management” terms, my standard work for management. The “standard work” descriptions we wrote down included details such as daily plant tours with a checklist of the kinds of things to be observed, a scheduled frequency for holding coaching/ review sessions with my direct reports, instructions for completing monthly status reports to be passed up the chain of command and so on. Our agreed upon understanding of how tightly I was to adhere to the document can be described as “focused but flexible”, which meant some variation was allowed as long as it was clear I was demonstrated a disciplined approach to my work.  
I understand now his intention was to establish a baseline for
  •  resolving potential problems in my area that might crop up from time to time
  • discussing potential improvements that could be made to improve performance in my area
Later, we had both types of discussions many times.  My years in that management position were very productive years.  Over those years the agreed upon standard work provided and anchor point for productive thought and conversations about how best to manage the performance in my area of responsibility. 


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this learning moment. In a way, your boss meant well and wanted you to focus on teaching others to "fish" rather than feeding them. Each person has a choice on how they approach a person to provide coaching. I believe that managers should spend significant time in the Gemba. I am happy to hear you had years of productive partnership afterward.

Craig Henderson said...

Thanks Bob. You bring up several excellent points. I'd like to follow up on two of them.

I also "believe managers should spend significant time in the Gemba". My two plant tours each day were allotted 20 minutes plus or minus each. My activities during the tours were listed in priority order. Even the intent of the tours was made clear so I could capture the "spirit" of what my boss was coaching me to do.
The tours were separate from many other activities where my colleagues and I were taught to "go to the Gemba". My boss had so thoroughly trained us to spend time in the "Gemba" that he had to coach me to make a needed adjustment in my new role as a manager.
He was a true coach. All of this was done to help me develop my capabilities as a manager.

You comment "Each person has a choice on how they approach a person to provide coaching" is insightful. I was intense about my work and had very definite ideas about how to do it. Because of this, my boss adjusted his approach to get through to me. I have often described his style with me using the words "charming bully”, and I mean that in the nicest way. He was genuine and very effective.