Steering Committee Blues

Rick Bohan

Steering Committee Blues

We always hope for Steering Committees that get fully engaged in the lean project, eagerly discussing issues and tossing around ideas.  What we get, too often, are Steering Committees that don’t steer.

Some of the dysfunctions we’ve seen in Steering Committees:

1.)  Sitting in silence rather than engaging in discussion of important issues and problems.

I once had a Steering Committee that included the plant manager AND the company’s VP of Operations.  The initiative was going slowly and I brought this up, saying we needed to talk about the why’s and wherefore’s of it all.  Silence.  I said that the initiative was in some danger of failing and we needed to get their input and ideas.  More silence.  Remember, these were the folks that hired me in the first place.

2.) Waiting for the senior leader in the room to speak.

I worked for a hotel firm a couple of decades ago; we were implementing Total Quality Management.  The particular operation I worked in was a good one and eventually did a good job of implementing and deploying many of the tools.  The SC, though, had a habit of continually deferring to the General Manager when any issue at all came up.  It was almost comical; I’d ask a question or present a topic for discussion and everyone at the table would turn in unison to look at the General Manager, waiting for his pronouncement.  It got to the point where he’d bark at them, “I’m not the only one in the room, ya know.  This is all about participation.  One of you guys say something for a change!”

3.) Solving problems rather than establishing plans

Remember that hotel Steering Committee?  They’d hold management meetings every Monday  that would last, no kidding, eight hours.  Eight hours!  Every week!  Why so long?  Well, there was no problem or operating issue too small for them to go over in detail.  I finally stopped them one meeting after they got involved in a discussion of what brand of cleaning materials would be purchased for housekeeping.  That discussion started at 11 pm.

Another client had a Steering Committee at its corporate office made up of the President and all the Vice Presidents.  I tried to get a discussion going as to how the continuous improvement initiative fit into the company’s overall strategy.  I was unsuccessful.  Instead, the Committee some how got into a discussion of carrier pricing.  That discussion was very energetic and went on for about twenty minutes.

4.) Not taking ownership of the initiative

At one client, we all been working hard on work place organization and visual factory but it was going slowly.  A customer came to visit on a day when work place organization had slipped pretty substantially.  The customer told his guests, “You guys need a 5S program.”

The company’s President related this story to the Steering Committee and it was clear he didn’t find it at all amusing. When he finished the story, the entire Steering Committee turned, as one, to look at me, who was sitting at the other end of the table.  I was not happy.

Now, it’s important to point out that all the Steering Committees mentioned above led successful initiatives (with the possible exception of Example #1).  Still, anyone who’s sought to help an organization develop and implement a continuous improvement initiative knows that Steering Committee dynamics can be frustrating.


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