One of the great highlights of my sports-fan watching occurred June 11, 2012. On that date, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils, 6-1 to claim their first Stanley Cup championship as an organization. For fans such as myself–who was actually part of the smallest home crowd in Kings history in 1967, their first year, who drew a comic strip newsletter about the Kings through high school, who attended Wayne Gretzky’s first game as a King, who waited, and waited, and waited through some miserable seasons–this was nothing short of a miracle. For the 23 or so players, winning the Cup was the culmination of a lot of blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice (not to mention the brilliant goaltending of Jonathan Quick).
So what does this have to do with continuous improvement? Not a whole lot, except lately I have been pondering how organizations get so many things backward. Sometime in the not-too-distant past, a new job title emerged: Champion. As in, “so-and-so has been named the new Lean Champion here at XYZ Corporation.” Somehow, “manager,” “leader,” etc., was not good enough. We need a Champion!
The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that such a “champion” has not necessarily succeeded at anything, much less proven to be the best. Now, of course, many of you will say, “The person is there to champion (v.t.) the cause of Lean, or Six Sigma, or whatever initiative.” I get that. But can’t they promote, cheerlead, facilitate, guide and lead the organization into better conduct without such an off-putting title? Or should the person at least earn the title of Champion the way the Kings earned their skate with the Stanley Cup in 2012?
Naming someone a “champion” before they’ve won anything is putting the cart before the horse, and setting the champion up for a potential fall. In an organization, the title puts emphasis in the wrong place–on a person, a Messiah-figure–when the emphasis should be on the processes the organization owns and the methods and tools the organization intends to use to improve. In that regard, the term Champion is counter-productive (employees will not respond as readily if it’s already determined who gets the glory for the success). A true Champion of continuous improvement doesn’t need a title. He or she knows success is a team effort and the team’s success is all the glory they need. A true Champion does not have to go around telling the world they are champion. Their accomplishments speak for them.
And don’t even get me started on “Change Agents.”