Lean and State Government Agency Leaders

One of the great challenges of Lean in state government is the perpetual turnover among the political appointees who lead state agencies. Turnover typically sets back the agency’s Lean efforts to the dismay of career state employees. What might be a practical countermeasure, not to the turnover itself, but to the setting back of Lean efforts as a result of agency leader turnover?

State worker engaged in the application of Lean principles and practices have certain needs from their political appointees. Employees are working to transition their thinking and processes from batch-and-queue to flow. They are doing this to develop human capabilities, to innovate, reduce costs, reduce lead-times, improve quality, improve customer satisfaction, and so on. These outcomes are undeniably the correct ones for state workers to pursue no matter who their agency leader is, what their leadership style is, or what their objectives are.

State workers pursuing flow have specific needs from their agency leader that must be met. A countermeasure is for state agency employees to enter into a Flow Leadership Compact with their political appointee. So, instead of leaders telling employees what they need, the reverse must happen: agency employees tell their leader what they need from them in order to pursue flow.

Elements of the Compact for political appointees would include:

  • Personal engagement in continuous improvement activities to learn the methods and the value of the methods to the agency and its customers, sufficiently well so as to improve support and reduce barriers.
  • Apply what they learned to their own work processes to deepen their understanding and improve their leadership competencies.
  • Maintain a blame-free environment; i.e. learn to blame the process instead of the people by asking “Why?”
  • Support daily experimentation by state employees in their efforts to improve processes and get closer to the normal condition: flow.
  • Behave in ways that are consistent with Lean principles and practices; i.e. Lean Behaviors.
  • Perform leadership processes using standard work and visual management. This could be a productive collaborative effort among agency leaders, the benefits of which include faster decision-making.

Governors obviously turn over as well. However, it seems plausible that any governor would want that results that state employees can achieve in their pursuit of flow. Therefore, it seems possible that there can be continuity among governors for Flow Leadership Compacts between career state agency employees and political appointees.

One would hope that state agency leaders are the type of persons who enjoy a personal and professional challenge, such that the Flow Leadership Compact would be welcomed and also seen as that which will result in a less stressful, more interesting, and more enjoyable leadership experience. Governors may therefore have to be a bit more selective in their appointees.

Such a Compact might also work well in other industries where management turnover is high.

Read the related post “Methodological Errors In Lean Government.”

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