In my travels from one company to another, I hear many of the following phrasesâ€¦
“We need executive sponsorship.”
“We need this to be owned top-down.”
“We need the CEO to champion our lean efforts.”
These are phrases that I hear over and over as I talk to companies about their lean journeys. I also spend a lot of my time either coaching CEOs and other executives on their involvement in lean, or working with others on strategies to get those executives engaged in the lean journey.
Certainly, your lean journey will be more successful if and when your CEO becomes a champion for it. But this is true for anything that must change in your organization. If you’re implementing SAP, it would be more effective if the CEO is championing it. If you’re launching a new S&OP process, it would be great to have the CEO engaged.
Can your CEO be the champion of everything that’s important? Of course not.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before putting all your eggs in the “we need the CEO” basket.
1. Is the person visible enough?
In one company the COO had been the champion, and the CEO supportive. Transferring ownership of lean to the CEO was explored. But the CEO was, and needed to continue, spending most of their time outside the organization. They were working with a reorganized board, working with the banks to maintain the right financing, and because the industry demanded it, spend a lot of time supporting the sales process in person. The COO was the true tone-setter in the organization, and the best person to be the true champion of lean.
2. Who has the best vision?
Sometimes the CEO is still not up the learning curve enough to be leading lean. To lead something, with conviction, you need to be ahead of the organization on the topic. You don’t have to be ahead of everyone, but you need to be well ahead of the median. You want the most senior champions to have enough knowledge of lean to have a vision – one that they can sell.
3. Who can move the next steps of the roadmap along?
You should have a roadmap. And all roadmaps for lean transformation are different (or at least they should be); they respect the culture, business needs, infrastructure and so on. What if the roadmap is to do a surgical-strike focused implementation in the finance organization (or insert another group here)? The CFO is a great senior champion, not just for their department but for the whole organization. They can be the voice of connections from finance to other areas.
It’s easy to say we need the CEO. Sure, that would be nice. But don’t let this be an excuse. You have many battles to engage in while leading change in the organization. Learn where to push, where to give, and what will help you move along the furthest, the fastest.
What do you think? Has your organization had success with someone other than the CEO championing lean? What factors have you considered in this analysis?