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Top 5 Ways to Gain the Support of Management

Mar 28, 2014 | Posted by Matt Elson

managament support

One of the most common questions / issues that is asked of us is (or some version of this one): “How to I get my manager to support my continuous improvement activities?” We hear it over and over again, along with a sense of total exhaustion and frustration coming from the person asking it. Inevitably, the question is accompanied by stores or descriptions of how incredible the changes have been, how motivated everyone was (not any more) and how management (I use that term widely here, and include direct management and also senior management) just didn’t support it. I’ve seen people on the verge of coming to tears with frustration and even anger. “TPS doesn’t work here, because we have a traditional mindset / culture / values /etc.”

I feel for these people…they’re obviously frustrated, and what I tell them is a bit of cold reality: YOU FAILED.

One of my coaches always warmed me about “making grey comments” to management about improvements. Decisions MUST be made based on the improvements to the safety, quality, quantity and cost of your processes; in other words, every decision should be a business based decision. I frequently remind people that Toyota is a business; a business that exists to what? Make a profit! It’s no coincidence that Toyota is one of the most profitable auto makers (some years ago they were more profitable than all the others COMBINED). The good thing is that Toyota has found they are more successful as a business by embracing a culture that values human development, problem solving and long term vision.

If you present improvement activities as “pie in the sky” hopes and dreams, you will fail to get consensus 99% of the time, because you are dealing with an opinion, not fact.

Instead, follow these steps and you’ll see that percentage change to gaining consensus 95% of the time!

1)  Focus on the Biggest Problems You Can Find

Here’s the scenario: The company is red across the board; on time delivery is terrible, quality problems like crazy, losing money on every program / product, etc. So what kind of improvement activities come down the pipeline: Savning 50% of the photocopy costs by switching to a new vendor and using recycled paper. WHAT?? (Yes, I know that recycling is important). What about working on the uptime for the biggest line in the plant? What about fixing the fact that it takes 5 times longer to process an insurance claim with the new system? What about correcting the quality defects so that THEY NEVER COME BACK?

These are the biggest problems management faces, so go solve them! If management can’t tell you what the biggest problems are, ask them “What keeps you up at night worrying?” or “What was the last late night phone call you received about?” Go after those issues.

If all else fails: check the metrics for safety, quality, quantity and cost (in that order). Go after the biggest RED condition you can find. Don’t go for “Low hanging fruit”.

2)  Prove Your Ideas with Facts, Don’t Give an Opinion

You know what they say about opinions. You may be able to make a great case, put a wonderful PPT with all kinds of scenario planning and speak to the Board with eloquence. It’s still just conjecture until you can show results with data! “Matt-san, fact is fact.“ This lesson was drilled into me over and over and over again. Frustrating? Maybe…but also liberating, because you are trained never to see consensus without first proving things out.

Simulate the changes before permanent changes are made (check out this information on a great way to simulate things: Cardboard City). That means being a human flow rack (to simulate a new part presentation), be a human auto-ejector (simulate the jidoka concept of separation of man & machine work), run a parallel pull production schedule (to simulate the effect on inventory). Present all of the details of your simulation, along with the factual results in a concise A3 report, and wait for the buy-in.

It’s hard to argue against facts…it’s much easier to resist opinions, because we all have one!

3)  Show, Don’t Tell

A picture is worth 1000 words. No different when making a case for change. Your message can’t be weighed down by tremendous amounts of data, thousands of words of script and lists (Pro vs. Con lists…HATE THEM!). You have to remember that time is a precious commodity and asking a manager to take valuable to time to decipher your idea is a bit ridiculous. If the story isn’t clear and to the point, you don’t understand it enough. Go back to the drawing board and try again (there is a reason that A3′s are written no larger than an 11×17 piece of paper…forces you to be brief!).

Whenever possible, go to the gemba (where the action takes place…shop floor, hospital ward, call center floor) and see your idea in practice. SHOW the improved results. SHOW the team member interaction. Encourage management to ask question of the people doing the work…they’ll tell them whether it works better or not!

4)  Be Consistent

Yes, being consistent can be boring. However, when different visions, directions and activities are always coming up, your efforts can seem a bit scattered. Everybody dreads the “flavour of the month” routine. If your strategy seems like it’s put together based on what you read online, it will appear to lack focus. When you lack focus, you pose an operational risk.

Stay on your path to true north. Use the same phrases (“What is the root cause?” ”What is the impact on OA?” ”Show me the standardized work.”). Refer to the same metrics on the balanced score card. Give status updates to the same things during your morning meetings. Take the same route on your daily shop floor walk; allow yourself to be “ambushed”.

Consistency reduces the fear of the unknown. When you are consistent in your approach, your manager can rely on it.

5)  Try Again

How many times does it take to convince management that TPS works? It takes as many as it takes. It’s your job to keep pushing.

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” ~ Winston Churchill

Our enemy is complacency, resistance to new ideas and “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

We have to fight that enemy every day, every hour and every minute.

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