Lean champions, who are they?

Every activity, movement, or new initiative needs advocates, people that support and promote the cause.  Continuous improvement or lean is not the exception.  The journey to transform the company will be easier if you have lean champions in your team.

Why you need them?

As we plan the continuous improvement rollout, we spend a lot of time on how to earn the trust of our employees.  During previous years, most of the staff changed.  At the time the plant changed its business operation model, many people retired.  For that reason, we hired new supervisors and managers.   The concern of the most senior members of the staff was that people could have trust issues.

Accept changes is never easy, especially when you tell people with an average of 22 years on the job that they will learn new ways to do it.  Knowing all the changes from the previous year, how could they trust that we were not trying to fire people?  Our lean coach suggested identifying team members known for being natural leaders to help.  People feel at ease with trusted leaders.  Therefore, they come into the conversation with less apprehension.  An advocate that is considered trustworthy by the team is the best way to gain their attention.

What are lean champions?

A lean champion is an advocate for the continuous improvement journey.  He or she knows the tools and helps others to use them.  Moreover, they promote lean thinking not only with words but with their actions.  In general, they will work closely with their coworkers to identify areas for improvement.  Also, they will guide and support the implementation of improvement ideas.  Most of the time, champions know the process very well and have experience in different functions.  That experience helps them to ask the right questions and guide their coworkers to learn.  However, it is not critical to be a subject matter expert.  

This group is more than promoters for the lean cause.  They will assist in continuous improvement events or even facilitate them.  Of course, they will need a coach to learn the ropes of the trade before going solo.

Lean champions may have different levels of experience, education, and qualifications.  People with previous continuous improvement experience are candidates to be champions.   However, not having experience in lean is not a deterrent to being a champion.  After all, continuous improvement is not about using tools but about the people and their learning experience.  For that reason, there are some characteristics or traits that have more weight than knowing the tools.

What are the characteristics of the lean champions?

Attitude and communication skills are among the most meaningful characteristics of members of this group.  They are positive people with the ability to adapt, avid learners, and enjoy helping others. Their communication skills are above average.  They can express ideas and simply and clearly.  Also, they can adapt their communication to different audiences. 

Honesty, integrity, consistency, and empathy are critical character traits for members of this group. Champions do what they say and have no problem admitting they don’t know something.  Of course, they have a strong will to succeed.  But also, they can cope with challenges and setbacks.  The ability to step back for a second to see the big picture and reflection as a learning tool is part of their skills.  

Lean champions don’t need to have any leadership positions.  The best I worked with were team members with a strong desire to learn and contribute to the company’s success.  Also, they have their egos under control and value the power of teamwork and collaboration.  These people don’t look to be in the spotlight at all times, although they feel comfortable doing it.

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