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The dance between CEO and Continuous Improvement Manager


  • What interferes with continuous improvement?
  • What does CEO expect by introducing management transformation?
  • What does CEO expects from Continuous Improvement Manager?
  • What support CI managers needs?
  • How not to step on each other’s toes?

The recent trend of accepting LEAN as transformation of management and corporate lifestyle is delightful, so this reality-based blog is dedicated to managers who want a lasting change instead of a quick vaccine.

What moves managers to implement change? What help do they need? Can this change be delegated to experts? How can the manager ruin continuous improvement in the organisation?

Based on an online discussion with general managers and CI managers about these issues, we distinguished three essential principles of LEAN development in an organisation which we decided to name as the dance between CEO and Continuous Improvement Manager.

 Who needs LEAN management?

'A well-managed company has to have good results first and foremost. Good results must be achieved efficiently and with love,”;says CEO of Litgrid Daivis Virbickas.

'Sometimes even a great result is not worth it considering how much blood and sweat went into it, so it is important to know how to efficiently achieve this result together. Organisation is like a team and it is not inactive but once you start raising the question whether something is the best, we ourselves need to change. We face many challenges until the new habits are formed because we are transforming the culture,”'says Arūnas Antanas Vizgaitis, Head of Selteka.

'A well-managed company has to have good results first and foremost. Good results must be achieved efficiently and with love. Not only the shareholder but also the public and the industry have to be proud of us. People are possibly the most important condition for success: so that people would want to work here, would be proud of this company and that we would be among the most wanted employers. For that to happen, a good team is not enough, you need a balanced team that communicates, talks synchronically, works according to the standardised processes and would only do what is necessary and what creates the greatest added value and, most importantly, would continuously improve, cooperate, notice good things and mistakes, provide constructive criticism and learn from it. Lean is focused on this and this is why we have chosen it,' says CEO of Litgrid Daivis Virbickas.

The music is playing but nobody’s dancing?

When CEO decides to transform the management, it seems obvious that the leaders will move together. However, he or she often has to “push” the ideas and team while assuming the entire burden of change alone. Sometimes certain tools are “introduced”, often leading to disappointment together with its short-term result. The manager then leaves the office, leads by example, hires consultants, explains, allows experimentation, encourages employee engagement, initiates and participates in daily discipline, adjusts the indicators in search of the right ones…

HOWEVER, sometimes certain 'star wars' and intrigue take place, the issues are escalated to the maximum and, finally, there’s the feeling of 'If I leave, everything will fall apart'. In other words, we are watching a solo performance on the dancefloor in deafening silence.

What kind of support does CEO need from CI Manager?

We raised this question to the managers who are responsible for continuous improvement and management transformation without having a person dedicated to carry out this task in their companies. Despite the differences between the operations, issues and experience, both leaders know the burden of the manager and how difficult it is to change the habits and culture.

'First of all such an expert would help me by applying LEAN to our company’s operations, engaging in continuous improvement and separate projects. Such presence would constantly force me to move forward and remind us not to run away from LEAN and live with it every day,” says CEO of Ekonovus Rolandas Rutėnas. “He or she would help to select and use techniques and tools and, most importantly, would help others to participate in processes correctly and sustain the constant rhythm without knowing the subtleties of each process. A CI manager for me is an assistant in implementing strategy, an intermediary between middle and senior management. I am ready to welcome a suitable person to the team,' Rolandas smiles.

When asked about the importance of the LEAN manager, Head of Selteka without hesitation equates it to that of the company’s elite. 'He or she is a member of senior management,' says Arūnas Antanas Vizgaitis.

All CI managers we spoke to agree that one person cannot do much and use bleak examples to illustrate that:

  • 'I feel like I have to ‘sell’ the idea of universality to the management team. Until that happens, my hands  are tied'
  • 'It is expected that I will fix all shortcomings and the most important processes alone. However, until I review and update everything, a few years might pass and priorities might change in that time'
  • 'I have become an accounting coordinator of using separate tools and solving minor issues'
  • 'LEAN has only been established in production and while it is insufficient, CEO does not need any changes'

How do LEANists view the importance of their job?

'If I had to change my job I would only work at a company where the general manager is determined to lead the company on its way of transformation because I want to implement the transformation together. I would not find it acceptable if the manager wanted to delegate the implementation of LEAN, distancing himself or herself. The general manager and the LEANist have to define their roles,' says Laura Makelė, Head of CI Department at FL Technics, and adds that it is very important for the manager and CI manager to find common ground and 'try on the same shoes'.

'If the transformation is taking place, the general manager has to be the  lead and the LEANist should go together with him or her as a team. Maybe it’s a vision but they should complement each other and work together.'

Unlike Ekonovus and Selteka, Litgrid started its LEAN journey with an internal LEANist.

'Imagine this: 95% have higher education and two thirds of them have been working here for more than 10 years. In other words, we made it seem that 'everyone knows everything'… and then Vaida comes and says, you might know everything, but we have do it like this…' recalls Daivis Virbickas and explains that vast common effort is needed for people who have been working at a company for 10 years and doing their jobs well to believe that CI Manager knows what she is saying and to listen, believe, act and continuously improve so that it becomes a part of  the organisational culture.

Vaida Veselovskienė, Business Process Manager (CI Manager) at Litgrid also emphasises the trust shown by the general manager and the management team that gives freedom to act. 'Most importantly, my boss not only talks, he also acts. He is always responsive and listens. If we do anything wrong, we continue together and I’m not the only one who is enthusiastic. If we start asking why we need these processes and why are we doing this, we discuss that and look for solutions. This is what makes my job meaningful'.

Freedom to act, actual support from the manager, trust and understanding the importance of effort constitute the basis of a LEANist’s job. “Knowing that I can achieve real change makes my job meaningful. A change that everyone can benefit from. A change that will increase the company’s profits. A change that will make everyone related to it, from a client or a simple worker to the most senior manager, feel more meaning in their everyday operations,” says Mindaugas Kulikauskas, Senior Continuous Improvement Consultant at The LEGO Group in Denmark.

How not to step on each other’s toes when dancing?
When couples dance, one partner leads and the other adapts. In our case, the manager is the leading partner. “If the manager does not believe in the purpose and the process, the people will always think: OK, we have to wait, this will pass. My job is to show that the manager is doing it and it will not pass, the manager is participating in meetings, trainings, discussions, the manager is participating in everything. I have to engage 100%,” says Daivis Virbickas.

“On the day the manager’s words and actions clash, continuous improvement in an organisation will be doomed,” Vaida believes.

Mindaugas does not think long before answering the question about ruining continuous improvement. “There are many ways. Continuous improvement in an organisation is demanding for managers. If the manager does not think systematically, continuous improvement will not work. If the manager is the only decision maker, it will not work. If he or she does not lead by example it will also not work. I could go on. However, it usually does not work because of the manager’s personal (dis)belief or inability to show an example.”

Arūnas stresses that the manager and the LEANist have to speak the same language and possess the same values as well as clearly understand the same goals. “I think that mutual understanding is essential. Attention and support from the people are no less important.

The manager has to systematically find time for the LEANist, understand what is the most important in the latter’s life, what are the main activities, what occurs in the processes, deduct the reasons of it from the LEANist’s assessment. The manager should ask if the expert needs additional help. The LEANist helps me to understand where we are while I help him or her to understand the company as a system. We have to learn together: to communicate, learn our lessons, prioritise our goals, check our successes and move forward. Without disputes, without showing emotions, just by simply understanding why we do this.“

Let’s imagine for a moment that a man, having invited a woman to dance, moves away and watches her dancing, then criticises her loudly for not inspiring him or teaching him the moves. Is another dance likely after this? The success of the dance of the general manager and the LEANist depends on the first moves: the LEANist can be seen or presented as equal to other managers and very important, someone who can help, provide feedback or he or she can be turned into an assistant. The management team very quickly accepts the attitude and the behaviour of the general manager. Here’s a specific example from the experience of a LEAN expert. “If I’m coordinating and conducting the A3 sessions, we are discussing not my personal results but the results of other teams. Everyone is proud of their achievements, the general manager thanks the management for the results and then turns to me and says, ‘Lean-ist, please make sure there’s discipline, that they follow the agreed discipline.’ Some responsibility of managers is delegated to somebody else, everyone’s doing great because they are solving problems and the LEANist will take care of discipline in your departments, having been moved to the role of the assistant again.“

How do you know if the management has been transformed yet?
Can we measure the result of the dance in euros? If it was an international competition with huge prizes, we could, but it is unlikely that the entire value would be reflected anyway. However, we can always turn the PDCA wheel and compare the current situation with our desired outcome.


No one mentioned euros,
but focused on LEAN management and sustainability spanning throughout the company

  • “When continuous improvement becomes a habit, everything’s clear, projects move forward, you scan the boards, everything’s comprehensible, we are simply used to doing it and everything’s fine,” says Arūnas Vizgaitis about the desired situation.
  • Rolandas Rutėnas agrees that no one needs persuading with regards to LEAN and its usefulness: “We are simply living in it”.
  • Daivis Virbickas raises the bar even higher: “Who knows, I might not be the general manager here after some time, Vaida might no longer work here as the head of business process development but we want the company to continue operating without anybody asking, what’s LEAN? Our goal is to be a competence centre in the Baltic States.”




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