My firm spends a lot of time working with clients who are struggling, or have struggled, to successfully implement lean initiatives. We have found common denominators that cause these culture-changing events to fail, and the failing that raises its ugly head way too often is inadequate leadership. One aspect of leadership inadequacy that is hardly ever spoken of is the trustworthy nature -- or lack thereof -- of management and leadership.
Leadership that is untrustworthy? It is not often spoken of, but trust is a foundational issue in any relationship, and the relationship of a lean leader to his/her subordinates and peers is no exception. In fact, the very nature of a lean initiative puts more pressure on this issue of trust than in most business interactions. If you do not have leaders who are trustworthy, then your lean initiative is likely to fail.
What is Trust?
Many people hear trustworthiness and think of honesty, moral values and not much else. But if leadership has these values, is that enough? Enough to adequately lead a lean transformation? I think not.
Trust is the cement that binds relationships. It applies at home, and it applies at work. And there is one time that trust is really, really important -- and that is anytime you jointly venture into the unknown.
That is why a strong relationship based on trust is so important in a lean implementation. Lean is all about change, and change is all about venturing into the unknown. The unknown is uncomfortable for all of us -- frequently so uncomfortable that it causes us to freeze. This discomfort makes it seemingly impossible to summon the courage to venture into the unknown. Frequently we are more willing to accept a known bad situation than attempt to solve a situation with some risk attached to it.
For those who are entrusted to lead our subordinates, I have one question: As a leader, can you provide the guidance, the assistance and the support necessary so these change agents are willing to act in the face of these risks?
To answer that question, lets take a look at the anatomy of trust and see what it takes to be trusted to supply the guidance, the assistance and the support your change agents need.