The importance of Leadership and Facilitation skills in Continuous Improvement cannot be overstated

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of the biggest challenges in the Continuous Improvement arena right now is the lack of Facilitation and Leadership skills of CI professionals.  This is a challenging problem on many levels.  I for one am concerned about the number of poorly qualified people hanging the Continuous Improvement Leader “shingle” on the wall, and frankly, most HR departments dont have a clue on how to tell a good candidate from a bad one.  Becoming a highly effective Process Improvement professional takes a lot of experience, knowledge, and leadership ability.

Employers are interviewing and hiring from the large pool of “CI professionals”.  The problem is that many people have the technical knowledge of CI or Lean Six Sigma to do well at making it through the interview process.  They may have a Lean Certificate, or they are a Six Sigma Black Belt. They answer the technical questions, talk the CI talk…Kaizen, Process mapping, Metrics… However, employers are finding out the hard way that there is a key missing link in some of these candidates…The ability to lead and facilitate.

No one can be effective at leading Continuous Improvement without leadership and facilitation skills.  Add to that, that leading Continuous Improvement means leading change, and leading change is not for the faint at heart.  It can be tremendously challenging.  Unfortunately what happens is that people with weak or non-existent leadership skills end up in a leadership role in very challenging situations that require strong and experienced leadership.  This can lead to some disheartening situations.  Secondarily, it can color people’s view of CI as a whole.

Let’s take a process mapping event for example.  A mapping event will consume the resources of 5-10 people from anywhere from 2 – 5 days.  This is significant resource consumption so there needs to be a clear payback.  The CI professional must have the ability to plan and prepare for the event.  He or she must be able to train and do..mapping, space utilization, Undesirable elements, Affinity diagram, spaghetti diagram, Waste identification, etc.  They must be able to facilitate the group to maintain focus and achieve the deliverables of the event.  Following the event, they must be able to manage the future state implementation plan, follow up with people, verify the metrics and other new behaviors are being followed.  They must be able to deal with people who are resisting and sometimes undermining the change.  They must deal with organizational politics.  They must LEAD and FACILITATE change.

In addition to leading mapping events, a CI professional will lead Kaizen events.  They may be events on the shop floor or with the corporate staff.  These situations have many common, but many different dynamics.  CI leaders will often find themselves leading or facilitating brainstorming sessions with a wide variety of people and personalities.  They will be required to teach.

This is the CI environment and it is not for the meek.  The importance of leadership and facilitation skills cannot be overstated in the Continuous Improvement arena.   If you are holding yourself up as a CI professional you need to ask yourself the hard questions about whether or not you have the leadership and facilitation skills required.  Most tests or certifications are not a good indicator.  You must gain these skills to succeed as a CI leader.

Employers, all the certifications in the world are meaningless in the absence of leadership and facilitation skills.  This often means that you should be selecting more senior and experienced professionals.  This may mean that you will pay more in salaries then you would like.  However, hiring someone without leadership and facilitations skills will be just another form of waste if you don’t.

  1. msisensei says:

    Great Post. This is why I struggle with the organizations that believe they can implement Lean and/or Six Sigma with a training only approach. It is as much about who is learning and who is mentoring as it is about what is taught.


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