How Lean Leaders Motivate Employees
Lean leader Akinori Hyodo delivered a commemorative seminar to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the founding of the Business Efficiency Association in Latvia on 7th April 2021.
Akinori, who is often referred to as Hyodo Sensei, enjoyed a career with Toyota, culminating in his role as a factory manager and director at the Toyota factory in Japan responsible for the manufacture of the HiAce vehicle. With extensive manufacturing experience spanning four decades with Toyota, Hyodo Sensei now works with Shinka Management as a Toyota Production System expert and lean consultant.
During the seminar, held with over 80 Latvian industry leaders and business improvement professionals, Hyodo Sensei talked about the roles and expectations of a lean leader and discussed how to motivate employees in leading and sustaining a lean transformation.
Following is a summary of Hyodo Sensei’s seminar.
What is a Leader?
I firstly want to talk about what a leader is and what this thing called leadership is. A leader is someone who has a clear vision for the future, is able to formulate a strategy to achieve that vision, and who is able to work together with people to execute that strategy.
But, when we look at the specific roles of a leader, one of the most important things is to set a good example and lead an organization by example. When you are in that position – whether you are the top of the company or you are managing a smaller group – it is important for you to act as a role model and set a good example for the people you are leading.
For instance, when you think of how people raise children, you would probably agree that the most effective way to raise them properly is by the parents acting as a good role model. Think of the parent, for example, in a similar way you might think of the top manager of a company. When you see the leader of the family, the father or the mother acting as a good example for their children, we typically see the children developing in the right direction.
The same thing can be said about how you can act as a leader within your own organization. The most effective way for the person at the top of a company to achieve what he/she wants to achieve as the leader is to lead by setting a fine example for the rest of the organization to follow suit. However, when I look around, I don’t always see this basic principle in place.
There are also a number of elements that make a great leader. But in reality, it is difficult to find a person who has every fine quality of a great leader perfectly within him/herself. This just doesn’t happen. However, what I want to recommend you to do is to choose one of these elements or qualities and decide that you are going to be better at it than anyone else you know because this will give you an advantage from a leadership perspective. In doing so, you will see the attitude of your subordinates towards you change.
Leadership Thinking and Behavior
Now, I want all of us to think about the important points of what specific behaviors we need to see from a leader in order for him/her to be effective.
It is my understanding that each of you here today are joining us on this seminar because you have a desire to improve your company. I am sure that each of you have been doing well to date. However, if you wish to be better than where you are now and improve things around you further, the most effective way you are going to achieve this is to change your thinking and behavior first.
Just like the example of the parent-child relationship I have talked about earlier, you need to become an example for members of your team to mimic. So, if you change yourself first, although you won’t see the change in your subordinates immediately, they will gradually move in your direction and they will start to act the way you are acting with time.
But, in order for you to be truly effective as a leader, it is also important for you to pay close attention to your subordinates. You need to be following up that they are behaving in the way you are asking or desiring of them. If you see something that is not quite right, you must make sure to follow up and be addressing that. If you don’t follow up, you won’t have success.
Whenever I come across a situation where people are saying things are not going in the right direction with their team, it almost always comes down to this point of them not checking and following up with their team members properly. What I often see instead is that managers just tell their subordinates what to do by just giving out orders and don’t pay attention to what they are doing after that.
Associated with this, we often see the problems that we want to address are not grasped or understood clearly. When we see issues, we often try to address those issues on a surface level without grasping them properly and without investigating their root cause.
When we have managers who haven’t understood the real nature of the problem, they are not able to address it properly and it becomes a vicious cycle whereby improvements are not achieved.
So, as a starting point, what I want to strongly advise everyone to do is to be very thorough in how you look at your workplace and how you watch your people. Please pay close attention to them. The problem is that many of us are just not doing that.
Fulfilling your Abilities as a Lean Leader
I now want you to think about your ability and ask yourself how much of that you are actually applying to your work. When I ask this question, the response I typically get from people is about 50 per cent no matter in what country I ask this question.
Do you think things are going to go well if you are only applying 50 per cent of your ability to what you do? The answer is probably not. Furthermore, what the company is expecting from you is certainly not at that level.
I trust that many of you are familiar with this concept of lean and the Toyota Production System. If I compare each of you to the lean leaders and staff we have at Toyota, most of you probably have more ability within yourself. The problem is, however, that the full ability you have is perhaps not being utilized to its full extent. The same is probably true with your subordinates. You are not extracting the full capability out of them. But, in order to move forward in the right direction, you need to have awareness around this and think about what you can really do to get the ability out of yourself and your people to its full potential.
A Lean Leader’s Approach to Raising Motivation
In preparing this talk, the topic of interest being presented to me from your association was along the lines of how we can raise motivation of our team as a lean leader and how we can maintain that throughout a lean journey. But, as I mentioned earlier, before we look at the motivation of our team, we really need to work on ourselves first. Because without getting this right first, the team will not follow. Usually that is the biggest challenge. The person at the top of the organization or a leader is not showing that motivation and often is not having that motivation or energy themselves.
In addition to this, we also need to recognize and understand our current state and conditions well. I am aware that each company and culture has its own peculiarities and issues that are unique to them. As this is the case, you need to have a clear understanding of the issues that are specific to your exact situation. Once you analyze the situation and uncover what they are, you will then have the opportunity to do something about this. You must think through the root cause of the motivation issue before you can address it.
In reality, there are lots of different ways out there that companies attempt to raise their staff’s motivation such as holding events for them and so on, and surly they are valid. But, even by focusing on that one point I was talking about regarding the leadership acting as an example, that in itself will make a huge change to your organization.
One of the important things that is expected of a good leader is to challenge oneself to set a high target. The reality is that the higher you go within your organization the more you are assessed and evaluated based on your results. But, don’t be scared of those results and failures. Although you might make some mistakes along the way, don’t limit the amount you challenge yourself to achieve a high target. Be prepared to fail every now and then because that is when you are stretching yourself.
Also, make sure that you are not evaluating yourselves or others only based on the end results. We also need to evaluate the process that has been taken to those results and to the extent that we challenged ourselves. If we limit the evaluation only to reflect the end results, people will start to limit the extent to which they challenge themselves and the organization will become weaker and weaker. Please think about which is better – an organization where everyone is challenging him/herself by having some stretched targets and occasionally failing, or an organization where people set their targets low, always achieve them and never fail.
If you adopt my advice and take the former approach, you may hit some bumps and difficulties along the way. And, if you see these bumps and difficulties from a very short-term perspective, they would probably be regarded as failures. However, we humans grow when faced with challenges. It is okay to make mistakes as long as they lead to improvement and more success somewhere down the track. That’s why, I recommend you to embrace your failures. By choosing to go down the difficult path, you and your organization will become a lot stronger than otherwise would have been the case over the long term.
How to Deal with Challenges and Issues
To this end, you must create the right environment in which you and your team can thrive. Another interesting thing about us humans is that we adapt very readily to the environment we are in. In other words, if you are in an environment that is conducive to success, you will have good results. So, create that environment yourself.
For example, I am confident that if you sent a number of your staff from your company over to work in one of the Toyota factories in Japan for six months or a year, they would be surrounded in an environment such that they would just naturally start acting and behaving like other people who work for Toyota.
Conversely, if we took some of our workers from Toyota to work in your environment – I am not saying it is a good thing or bad thing here – I am sure that they will also change to match your rhythm and adapt to your environment. This is just the way we humans are. Therefore, if we can control our environment, we will have an advantage.
I received a question ahead of this seminar asking what can be done in the West where people often change companies every few years and it makes it difficult for them to get on board with continuously improving the company. Looking at this question, I want to ask if you see it as a problem.
If you don’t see it as a problem but rather consider it the reality and part of the normal state of affairs, then you need to accept this as normal and create an environment where your staff can make a contribution to the team in a shorter time span. You need to think of the way to have your staff get on board with things as quickly as possible and achieve what they need to achieve in the period of time you are likely to have with them.
But, if this is considered to be a problem, then you will need to do a root cause analysis to find out why your staff are leaving your company every so often and address this specific problem. When a company has a high staff turnover rate, there may be several reasons behind this. But generally speaking, this usually comes down to something as simple as the company and the environment they are working in not being particularly attractive to them. This could be a matter of how much they are being paid, or that the environment they are working in is not so comfortable for them. In this case, if you can change their working environment and conditions to be more attractive, you will be able to bring down the turnover rate. You won’t get it down to zero, but you will likely be able to improve the situation.
So, it is really a matter of how you approach the particular problem you are dealing with and from which perspective you look at it.
This is also related to how we can raise the motivation of our staff. Frankly speaking, one of the important factors as to why we are all working is that we need to be able to support our lifestyle and that of our family’s, and this essentially comes down to our salary. Although it is certainly not a cure-all, if we receive a good salary, somehow it helps with our motivation. Likewise, if you create a good working environment, we will be happier. These things are often linked closely with our motivation as well. In many ways, having the ability to create the right environment that will have a positive impact on your people is going to contribute to your success.
Just like any company, I am sure each of your companies has many issues and problems. However, the important thing here is how you view these problems. Do you view them as something that will drain your resources or do you view them as a chance to do something better with them?
After all, there is no such thing as a perfect company. Toyota certainly is not perfect. We have got so many problems that we need to deal with, and this is the same with many other companies. But, if you can view these problems as a chance to make your current situation better and you have the attitude to work through them, you are on the right path to success. Uncover and tap into the dormant ability you have in yourself and your people and use it to its full extent as this will also contribute greatly to the future growth of your company.
I wish all of you well on your path as lean leaders, and good luck with the challenges that come your way.