In our work with organisations and people embarking on the Lean Transformation Journey we often hear people say that “buy-in” by top management is an essential success factor. Indeed, research confirms that top management commitment is a critical success factor for major change programmes such as introducing a Lean Management System.

We also often hear that leadership, in certain departments or organisations, are not buying in to the change and therefore it is a waste of time to start or support a Lean initiative there.

In my experience it is not as simple as whether there is buy-in or not.

The problem is what people mean when they use the word “buy-in”. It is rarely made clear what buy-in is. I guess that the expectation is: “whole-hearted endorsement”. In practice, when the buy-in of top management needs to be confirmed, a meeting is arranged with top management to explain the benefits of the initiative and secure their buy-in. However, even if the buy-in is confirmed, it is often not adequate to see a Lean Transformation through to the expected results.

I prefer to think of top management commitment consisting of three phases.

  1. Buy-in is the first stage: when the leadership agree to start the initiative. It is the easy part. When you propose to a CEO that a Lean Management System can empower all the people in the organisation to increase value for the customer and eliminate waste, what is there to disagree with? Employee engagement is the one thing every CEO would love to have in their organisation. Even if you explain that it is a long, hard road, it is a relatively easy sell.
  2. Do-in is the challenge. At the next stage when the top management is required to do their leader standard work, to model the new management behaviour that is expected of everyone in the organisation, the challenge becomes apparent. Regular coaching sessions and team meetings are often bumped out of the way, due to fire-fighting, and leader standard work becomes the exception, rather than a habit.

Fortunately, we have an excellent local example in Mr Grey Dube of leadership do-in. You can view a video here of Mr Dube explaining his leader standard work on the visual board in his office. Below is a photo of me meeting with Mr Dube, a meeting that I appreciated immensely. He is an exceptional Leadership example and will be speaking at our Lean Healthcare Summit on 31 October in Johannesburg.

  1. Stay-in is the next essential step . By “stay-in” I mean that leader and management standard work needs to be practiced over a long period of time before it will become a way of life in an organisation. Transformative organisational change takes time to reach critical mass, giving the new behaviours a good prospect of being sustained. It requires leadership to stay in the game for long enough that the new management practices can be institutionalised, measurement systems can be adapted, a daily management system can be put in place, and standard work will survive staff changes.

So, don’t think that top management buy-in is enough. In my view do-in and stay-in are more important if you want your Lean initiative to be successful.

Warm regards,

Anton Grütter

Director: Lean Institute Africa