One of the core ideas of Lean Management is the elimination of waste. This usually means eliminating unnecessary tasks, motions, inventory, rework, etc. However, the new challenge for lean management is to improve the efficiency of management itself. Much management activity is waste. This waste is just as destructive, or more so, than waste on the factory floor.

What does this waste look like? I have identified six forms of management waste. Feel free to add to the list.

Management Waste # 1: Sucking decisions up due to the lack of empowerment, education and encouragement at lower levels. Management thinks they are busy because they are doing other people’s work and they do this because they have not structured the organization, established the training and systems to create competent problem solving and decisions at lower levels.

Management Waste #2: Displaying contradictory models. If you want to teach your children not to smoke, drink or swear, but you walk around the house smoking, drinking and swearing, your efforts are going to be little more than waste. Management, leaders, must model the behavior they desire of others. The failure to do so cripples any change effort. Millions of dollars in consulting and training have become waste because management didn’t walk the talk.

Management Waste #3: Failure to define and manage your own processes. There are processes that are owned by the senior management team. Every team, at every level, should have a SIPOC that defines input, output, and value adding processes owned by that team. They don’t own any process? Than the entire team is waste! Tell them to go home. MOST management teams do not know what there processes are, and reinvent them in a random or annual manner. Developing strategy is a senior management value-adding process. Where is the map that visualizes how they develop strategy? When they did it last year, did they study the process and what did they learn? Unfortunately, they probably learned nothing and are not themselves engaged in continuous improvement. Therefore, they don’t understand it and do not set the model.

Management Waste #4: Failure of decision making: I have coached dozens of senior management teams. One would think, logically, that the higher you go in the company, the more skilled would be the decision makers and decision making process. The value of decisions made at the top, should be of greatest value. Errors made at the top are the most expensive. The truth is that in most companies, the decision making process at the top is terrible.

Many years ago I was doing a socio-tech redesign of a major financial organization on Wall Street. The only room the design team could find to meet in was THE BOARD ROOM!! Very expensive furniture, huge table, mahogany paneled walls, etc. After a day or two the design team had half the wall area covered with flip chart sheets. In stormed the official keeper of the room with steam spurting out of his ears. He yelled, “Take that down immediately! No one has ever put anything on these walls!” I asked, “Really? No one has ever brainstormed or put flip charts on the walls in here?” “Absolutely Not!” He yelled back. Poor fellow. He had never seen a room in which people were actually solving problems, brainstorming, reaching consensus, developing action plans, etc. It tells you a lot about how senior management teams fail to employ disciplined decision processes.

Management Waste #5: Wasted space and resources. That board room was used once a quarter. It sat empty and unused most of the time. Why do managers need larger offices as they move up the ladder. Do they get fatter? Do they have bigger computers or more books? What is that about? It is about waste. It is the waste of ego. The time spent at resorts doing annual strategic planning that could be done in their own conference room, or in someone’s home, is also waste. Apply the same disciplined standards of waste and resource utilization at the executive and management level as you apply to the factory floor.

Management Waste #6: The failure of trust. An effective management team, like any team, is a social system built on trust. That trust enables members to share, to ask questions, to offer suggestions, and to listen well to each other. On MOST management teams there is a failure of trust among its members that inhibits their ability to solve problems and make effective decisions.

The solution to these forms of waste, which is the opposite of lean management, is not only training, but coaching and feedback. They need hands on help in order to change their behavior, their habits. It is these habits that define the culture.

Larry Miller