Some of the least Lean aspects of many organizations are the management activities. My colleagues and I consistently find a high proportion of “non-value-adding” tasks in arenas such as sales, marketing, order management, human resources, finance, etc. involved decisions, sign-offs, reviews and other activities involving leaders. Ask yourself if you’ve ever heard this comment: “We’re ready to go, but we’re waiting for the boss to decide.”
Any Leader who’s demanding speed also needs to ensure his or her own intrusions on the work process—well-intentioned though they may be—don’t slow things down unnecessarily. Creating Lean leadership processes requires some fairly straightforward steps:
1. Recognize leadership as a non-value-adding role. I can sense the egos getting a bit riled at that one … Of course, leadership is critical to a successful business. But as viewed by your paying customers, on an everyday basis you are probably not really adding anything all that essential to the process. Think of what you do as being akin to the conductor of an orchestra: While the leader wields the baton, the music produced by the musicians is the final product the audience pays for.
2. Identify and evaluate your value-adding activities. Once you’ve become at least open to the idea that a leader’s role in daily activities is to guide but not hinder (i.e. can be non-value-adding), you can begin to examine and optimize your contributions. Some of the work you do may actually be value adding from a customer point of view, especially if you get involved in actually designing products, delivering services, or winning customers (leaders do that too), but it may well be less than you think. A great value-adding leader example: One of the most successful advertising agencies of the past couple of decades is Hal Riney and Partners of San Francisco (now a unit of global ad giant Publicis). The agency produced some of the most recognized and effective ads of the 1980s and 1990s, including the Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler campaign for Gallo, and Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” TV spot created for the 1984 presidential election. Agency founder and president Hal Riney was more than a “conductor.” He not only wrote much of the copy for his clients’ commercials, he was the familiar, soft-spoken, avuncular voice of many of the agency’s famous spots. His was a truly value-adding presence for his customers.
In looking at your value-adding efforts, it’s a good idea to test your assumptions about whether you are really the right person for those tasks. Like Hal Riney, your talent may be irreplaceable, the economics of the business may require you to take on some of those tasks, or you may just be a “hands-on” leader.
On the other hand, you could be doing what I call “raking the lawn.” This term was inspired by my Dad, who after assigning my brother and me to spruce up the yard when we were kids would invariably walk by, look at what we were doing, and say, “Here, let me show you how!” Several minutes later, the lawn was all raked. (Thanks, Dad!) A lot of impatient leaders fall into this habit; it feels good but it can send the wrong message to your people, slow things down, and detract time from leading the yard work.
3. Take steps to “lean out” your leadership and management. The goal is to identify and differentiate the useful leadership interventions from those liable to unnecessarily slow down the work, and stop getting in the way when it’s not really critical.
Figure 1 diagrams a typical sales process with time data included along the bottom (this is a modified “Value Stream Map” format). As noted, the wait time in the process is all tied to the Director’s reviews, which from the end customer’s perspective are non-value-adding steps. Out of a total 11-plus days to complete a sale, 7 are spent waiting for the Director to review the documents. If that sounds exaggerated, guess again: We find many such processes where as much as 80 percent of the elapsed time is just “on hold” or non-value-adding time.
Figure 1 – Impact of “Non-Value-Adding” Leadership Activities on a Project