Is Lean Leadership about Process or Results?

by | Apr 8, 2018 | Communication & Connection | 2 comments

This is quite embarrassing. Indulge me while I take a trip back to my first few years in operations management, before I was ever introduced to Lean – and before Process + Results thinking entered my world.

Our organization conducted Voice of Customer (VOC) surveys to get direct feedback from customers on their experiences – and each location’s VOC scored determined part of our incentive payouts. Even more than that, first quartile or “number one” performance was highly celebrated. And 4th quartile performances were punished using things like formal disciplinary action or having to attend horrific conference calls from your office at 5pm on Fridays.

I had been promoted to manage a location ranked last in the company. Fast forward and one month our VOC scores were #2! I was thrilled, but that just wasn’t good enough for me.

During the last days of the month, I constantly checked VOC scores thinking, “I hope the #1 location gets a bad survey, so we can take over that spot!


Yes, I genuinely wanted a customer of my company to have a bad experience or a late job so I could move up in the rankings. The recognition given to achieving “number one” status was so high that I went there.

It’s embarrassing – but it’s not unique.


The Perils of Results-Only Traditional Management

Many of us have been involved in organizations where results were the “one and only”. And usually it was the short-term results. The results of the week or month or quarter. Not trends. Not performance related to control limits. Not improvement. But short-term hit the number, hit the number, hit the number results management.

And many of us have seen people make poor decisions – potentially even unethical decisions – to hit those numbers. I’ve seen dozens of people lose their jobs for making unethical decisions in order to hit a number or win a company contest. I’ve seen hundreds of people make decisions that are bad for the customer to hit a number.

That’s the type of management I “grew up” under – similar to so many leaders now finding themselves trying to transform from traditional management to Lean leadership.

Ironically, how we make decisions hardly seems to matter to the senior leaders of many organizations. We are measured on results, and as long as the results are good, we don’t question how we arrived at the decisions, or even whether there is a correlation between management decisions and results. A core belief of kaizen is the importance of checking both process and results.”Creating a Kaizen Culture, Jon Miller, Mike Wroblewski, and Jaime Villafuerte

The Difference with Process + Results Lean Leadership

Leading with Lean is different. And to transform from traditional management to effective Lean leadership, we have to make certain leadership shifts.

As I transformed to Lean leadership, one valuable lesson I learned is to Put Results in Their Place.

Results are important. They help us check the impact of the process. They direct us to the problems we need to overcome. And they keep organizations prosperous and team members employed.

Focus on Process + Results instead of results only

But results do not stand alone. Process determines results. And everyone who’s been in a Lean environment for even a short time recognizes the importance of process. Whether it’s process standardization, process waste reduction, process improvement, process mapping. . . We get it. We LOOOVE process. And when we look at results within the context of process, we get what I call “Process + Results”.

In the last post I talked about redefining winning and putting the right things on the scoreboard. And that’s an important step. The next step is to put those results within the context of process.

“The winners will be those that focus on the process, not the results.” – Art Byrne

Results do not stand alone and should not be reviewed in a vacuum.

Putting results in their place – within the context of process – is an important shift in effectively leading with Lean.

5 Ways to Focus on the Process in Lean Leadership

1. Know that good processes will deliver good results

Do you truly, 100%, without a doubt believe that if you get the process right, then results will follow? If not, spend some time digging in to why that is. Differentiate between the objective facts and the subjective thoughts or feelings that are driving this belief.

2. Increase the time spent on the process

When you review results in huddles and meetings, how much time and effort do you spend focused on the processes that generate those results? Time it. What’s the percentage? Now that you know your baseline, work to increase the percentage of time spent on the process versus results. Results are the barometer, but spending a lot of time lamenting on the results doesn’t drive improvement. Instead, look simply at the data to point you and the team in a direction and then the bulk of the time talking about and working on the process.

3. Respond to “red” and failure with curiosity

How do you respond to “red” or failure? When you open that report or look at the visual board and see the red, does your body tense up a bit, get a little flush? What about when a huge, highly visible customer failure happens? Does your gut want to know who? These may be natural reactions that have been developed over years of working in traditional, results-only organizations. Instead, take a deep breath and work to put yourself in a mode of curiosity. Make the phrase “I wonder” one of your most-used phrases to help you move to curiosity.

4. Remove yourself from the blame game

So that failure happened and now others in the organization are pointing fingers at you and your team. The organizational CYA Blame Game has commenced!People Pointing Fingers

Does that make you want to point out all of the errors the other departments had that contributed to the failure? To protect your team? Resist the urge to blame back. By participating in the blame game, you are perpetuating it.

Remove yourself and focus on root cause analysis. Collect and share facts. Depending on your role in the organization, you may not be able to stop the blame game from happening, but you can choose to remove yourself from it. And often, when you come to the table with facts, root cause analysis, and self-accountability, you can diffuse the blaming.  This one was a particularly challenging lesson for me to master when I was working in a horizontally managed and fear-based organization!

5. Take results out of corrective feedback

Sometimes you need to provide corrective feedback to a team member to help him or her adjust behavior. It might be through informal feedback or even a performance management process. Before you do, stop and review the feedback and remove the results (the customer failure, the missed metric). Instead, focus on the process behavior, how you expect your organization’s core values to show up in practice, and the competency behaviors that need improvement.

Take Action to Transform to Effective Lean Leadership

Watch your words and actions this week. Make a note of when you are communicating or behaving in a Results-Only method versus a Process + Results method. What’s your percentage of Process + Results communication and behaviors in the every day?

How have you transformed from a Results-Only focus to a Process + Results Focus?

Comment and let me know how you were able to make this shift – or what challenges you may still face. I’d love to hear your feedback!

And don’t forget to download a FREE PDF to assess and track your improvement in fifteen Process + Results Lean Leadership areas!

Meet Jamie

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I’m a recovering Command-and-Control Manager who’s now on a mission to make the world of work more human. With a soft spot in my heart for Ops Managers, this Lean blog gives you the straight talk combining Lean, Leadership, and the real challenges of operations management.