I came across a manufacturing executive survey a few weeks back and have been pondering just what to make of it. The good news is that it indicates that 78% of the American manufacturing execs are pursuing lean. The bad news is that "resistance to change" and "lack of leadership" on the part of their employees is still seen by the top honchos as their biggest obstacle – that is to say, their biggest excuse for failure.
The typical lean scenario is to change nothing in management – the accounting system, the MRP system, the organizational structure, performance measurements, and the criteria for investing in machines and equipment. At the same time, radical change is demanded from the shop floor. The net result is that production is expected to …
… get perfect quality from machines that were justified solely on the basis of their ability to keep labor costs low, and from employees who are paid on the basis of production volume or seniority.
… reduce cycle times, cut inventory and become much more responsive to customer demand, while complying with production schedules generated by the Big Push MRP system.
… devote their time to cross functional, value stream cost and flow improvements, while reporting to a functional boss and having their performance measured by compliance to departmental objectives.
… engage employees in improvements, problem solving and total cost reduction, while reporting daily on even the slightest degradation in direct labor efficiency.
In short, the execs will not change much of anything in their dysfunctional, but comfortable, management world, but expect employees to change everything in theirs – even when that change defies the formal management process. They demand that the employees toil away at pounding square pegs into round holes, then blame them when they don’t fit.
Before braying to each other and pollsters about their employees’ unwillingness to embrace change, the execs ought to give some thought to their own openness to change. The old accounting system is the like an upper management security blanket – frayed, worn and useless for its original purpose, but the owner cannot sleep soundly without it. Unless and until upper managers are willing to toss their security blankets on the trash heap, along with the rest of their destructive manufacturing management habits, I think it is more than a tad hypocritical for them to lambaste middle managers and shop floor folks for their lack of initiative and courage to embrace change.