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What Trump can learn from Lean transformation

Lean transformation

November 11, 2016

With Donald Trump’s surprise US election win this week, the winds of change were just upgraded to a hurricane. It’s far too early to tell how much upheaval will result from this momentous changing of the guard, but it’s clear that uncertainty and unpredictability are the new normal, both economically and politically. 

Furthermore, when there is a change of US President it’s not just the man at the top who changes, but thousands of members of staff in Washington too. Akin to a corporate takeover, it’s a situation where personnel matters come to the fore; where personality and skills, culture and strategy are thrown together, often more in hope than expectation.  If the US Government were a business, how would it ensure that its Lean transformation programme survives this change?

I wrote last week about the positive anchoring effect that Lean can have in times of change, but when it comes to a handover of leadership and wholesale personnel changes, the situation is greatly exacerbated. As McKinsey notes in its report on Guiding the people transformation: “Changes in leadership, team structure, and performance transparency can be deeply stressful for frontline employees and middle managers. That leads to HR’s next major contribution, which is to help with communicating the Lean transformation, monitoring employee reactions to it, and addressing concerns that arise.”

This need for communication is absolutely crucial, and one which is often overlooked as everyone focuses on matters they perceive to be more pressing, such as logistics or IT integration. While the McKinsey piece is specifically looking at the role of HR, I would say that the comms process needs to be led from the top.

Lean transformation comms is not just about what you say, but how you say it.  Tone of voice and nuances of language can make the difference between a positive and negative reaction from your team and getting it wrong at an early stage can really get the change process off on the wrong foot.

It’s no surprise that Obama has already invited Trump to the White House to discuss the handover process. By taking swift action to build bridges he is sending out an important message about stability and cooperation, despite the mud-slinging of the election campaign.  Like it or not, they need to work together to achieve the best transfer of power.

One of Trump’s first tasks will be to find and employ vast numbers of people to work in his administration. When a Lean organisation is recruiting new staff – whether in leadership or frontline positions – it’s important that new employees bring with them values and behaviours compatible with Lean. They may not have direct experience of Lean transformation, but if they are not open to the benefits of a Lean culture their presence will undermine the organisation’s strategy and could potentially derail the process (particularly if they are in a senior role).

As John Dyer cautions in Industry Week, “Keep in mind that when a new executive comes on board, you and your teams will probably need to make significant adjustments to the current approach in order to accommodate the new leader’s experiences and convictions. Otherwise, they are likely to shut down the entire [Lean transformation] initiative. (Sadly, many executives don’t want to support something their predecessor started since they will worry about who will get credit.).”

The world will be watching to see how Trump, a man with no previous political experience, manages his transformation from TV star and agitator-in-chief to global statesman and leader of the free world. Whatever your organisation’s change management challenges, I’ll bet they pale into insignificance in comparison!

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