Lean Manufacturing Demands Fully Engaged Employees
We enjoy checking in with the thinking and discussions of the Lean Enterprise Institute. The Lean Manufacturing concept is based on the ideas that all players in a successful enterprise (Sales, Executives, Operations, et al.) can create an organization that better meets the needs of its target customers through constant and intensive collaboration.
Here is a recent powerpoint we spent some time clicking through. It was probably better when presented with a lecture (some of the slides were inexplicable in isolation) but the basic concepts made a lot of sense to us, and dovetail with the leadership work we do with middle management teams in our own clients.
Here are just three slides that exemplify how a collaborative organizational culture can be built:
Slide 7: Here is the basic philosophy of “lean manufacturing,” which requires a keen understanding of how the manufacturing process works (down to the last turn of each screw!) From whom does all this understanding come from?
- Employees working the lines
- Designers creating the products to be sent along those lines
- Salespeople collecting the customer reactions to the products coming off the lines
Are all these employees signed on enthusiastically to the lean manufacturing project, to the point where they will share all the truth that they know about what makes the most sense to pursue? If you can’t draw out the truth that springs from all these employee experiences, your lean manufacturing will be built on a foundation of sand, and starting “leaning” like the Tower of Pisa.
Slide 22: How did the employees of the old GM plant in Newark, CA get fully engaged in the joint venture between GM and Toyota to take that plant from worst to first in a few short years? A solid process of employee engagement. Note, too, the highlighted point that “soft” doesn’t mean “easy.” Employee engagement done correctly is hard work for transformational leaders.
Slide 42: You can capture here a neat list of the cultural changes that leadership had to make to pull of the transformation of a GE Appliance factory that brought production back from Asia (a trend we would like to see continue!). Those new leadership practices were:
- Build trust
- Problem Solvers
- Communicate Business Objectives & Results
- Collaborate across functions
- Sets improvement targets for team
- Involve and challenge employees
This is exactly the culture our most successful clients work towards. It takes a lot of trust in senior executives that the people working for them are bright, motivated to perform at a high level, and willing to adopt the mission of the organization if asked to.
As we know from our own work, In most cases this is true, which boggles the mind of more traditional command-and-control managers who are not willing to trust the talents and intentions of the people working out on their front lines.
How can employees make lean manufacturing techniques work if they are not fully engaged (acting passionately and in alignment) with the mission to implement it?
It takes a lot to build an inclusive culture that encourages collaborative sharing and rewards responsible risk-taking. But company after company have shown that creating such a culture works, and is the most profitable, sustainable approach long-term.
Are you involved in a collaborate process to improve production (regardless of the name you put on it)? Does it sound like it could fall into this “lean manufacturing” philosophy? Is this a valuable addition to the discussion about how to raise productivity generally?