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The Queen and Lean

4 October 2022

Well it’s been another momentous month in the insanity that is the 2020s.   I was surprised at how sad I felt after the Queen died … it really is an end of an era isn’t it? Not quite so sure I am delighted at being a ‘subject’ ruled unquestioningly by a privileged elite who we all collectively pay a large amount of money to every year, but that aside, no one can question that the Queen definitely did serve her country diplomatically, faithfully and for the entirety of her reign. She will be much missed.

In the approximately 56 hours of royalty based tv that I wallowed in, the tribute documentary that resonated me the most was one that talked about the Queen’s realization that she should have visited the village of Aberfan sooner after the tragedy … and that this mistake was something that she never made again. She made sure that she was visible and present very quickly after major incidents, and importantly, visiting Aberfan several times in later years to right the initial wrong.

Reader, it may not surprise you to learn that this made me think of lean and the power of improvement. She appeared to not make the same mistake twice. Charles, initially, was seemingly prevented from marrying a divorcee that he loved … that didn’t exactly work out very well …. so after that, other children were permitted to marry their choice of partner. Lesson learned.

Now it might be too considerable a stretch to link the Queen’s death to lean, but it did remind me of a juicy conversation with my friend Tom (who successfully completed Cardiff’s Executive MBA and said it was the best thing that he ever did for his career…  ahem) about how we should write a book on lean as a self help device because the concepts and tools of lean are wholly applicable to your personal life as well as to your working life.

You kind of can’t help it, because when you teach lean and try to help organisations (including your own) to be lean you do have to attempt to practice what you preach.  It does not look good if you yourself are an organisational nightmare. This pressure leads to such personal efficiencies as creating a google form to collect menu choices for my Mum’s 70th birthday party (extremely successful) and also a shared note between me and my husband which lists jobs that he needs to attend to (largely ignored … plus potentially relationship damaging. Husbands do not like to be leaned).

I try to improve my lean training programmes as well as my partners, learning each time from how each one goes.  I recently completed a programme with a fab Insurance company based in Caerphilly.   This time, I spent more time talking about the two different types of improvement – Kaizen and Kaikaku.  I was careful not to keep stressing the Japanese terminology too much (although I do really like saying the word ‘Kaikaku’ … almost as much as I like saying ‘Pokayoke’) the important principle being that there is the more intense ‘project based’ form of improvement but there is also the more incremental and fundamental form of improvement which is built on platforms of improvement practice.

I’m aware that that previous sentence was classic ‘change management speak’ so let me attempt to explain further.

When you start getting passionate about improvement, you start to see the potential for what’s possible everywhere.  Lean encourages you to look for FLOW across organisational boundaries so you are drawn to big, cross functional projects that seek to revolutionise how processes work (kaikaku).

But such activities are only part of the improvement story.  So much can be achieved from improvement daily practice. How you run a meeting, how you visualise what work is being done, how you manage your time to ensure reflection. These small, improvement practices all add up to creating an organisation that learns, and tries hard to not repeat mistakes (kaizen).

You can achieve improvement simply by yourself, building time and space to work through your own Plan Do Check Act cycles of learning, via methods as such as a reflective journal for example. So when teaching a lean programme this time, I made sure to stress the power of the little things as well as the big, high impact projects. Because the little things mean so much within successful lean leadership.

We were lucky enough to welcome Nigel Wilson, Group CEO of Legal and General, to launch a programme that we were delivering for the NHS Wales Finance Academy a few years ago and he talked openly about how important he found setting time aside to reflect on what went well that week and what lessons he needed to learn.  His talk was fascinating and really inspirational. It was the first time that I had heard a leader talk openly about how they carve out time to reflect and to think.   Indeed, a quick google search will confirm that lots of successful CEOs build in time to reflect in forms such as a ‘leadership journal‘ it would seem.

Whilst I might set up google forms and collaborative to do lists at the drop of a hat, I have yet to start a journal or diary so perhaps I should start? (I did buy The HappySelf Kids’ Daily Journal For Boys and Girls Aged 6 to 12 – for my daughter though, in an attempt to make her a more calm and balanced person than me.   Let’s hope it works.)

“So Sarah, this blog is called The Queen and Lean .. are you going to get back to that at all?” well … turns out the Queen was indeed a journaling fanatic and that she had a conversation with Sir Michael Palin about how helpful she found it!  Maybe it was this daily reflective routine that was the secret to her enduring success?!

So there you go, HRH the Queen was a fan of lean. Isn’t everyone? 😉