by BILL WADDELL
With lean built on a foundation of respect for people, value to customers, true partnerships with suppliers and the elimination of waste which dictates an environmentally responsible approach to manufacturing, lean is very much in keeping with the urgings of the Pope in his recent Encyclical when he wrote that "business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference."
The logic and demonstrated results of the true lean companies demonstrate that this inclusive approach to running a business generates superior profits. It implies, however, a commitment to ethical behavior that seems to be beyond the reach of an increasing number of managers, and, in fact, the cultures in which many of you are trying to lead your companies. Greed is the antithesis of lean Lean management requires accepting responsibility for the welfare of all stakeholders, and treating them with genuine respect. That antithesis has become so prevalent in western culture that lean is beyond the reach of many companies.
Consider today's business news:
In the London Times there is an article discussing the practice of packaging items in smaller quantities, while keeping the price the same in hopes of sneaking price increases past gullible customers. The author of the article writes, "Whether supermarkets and manufacturers should “fess up” to changes is open to debate." Debate? No honest person is on the side of the debate arguing for deception.
The management at BAE Systems faces criminal indictment for bribery … again.
An IBM Senior Vice President was arrested for insider trading.
The former CEO of Germany's second biggest bank is facing criminal charges for skimming millions from a deal he engineered before taking bailout money and nearly putting the bank under.
MPC Products in Chicago settled criminal fraud charges and two of its vice presidents face criminal prosecution for falsifying charges to the government.
A lawsuit in New Jerseyover false claims of defective plastics is further compounded by an exert witness who was illegally paid for his 'expertness' concerning SAP software.
Siemens, German truck maker MAN Nutzfahrzeuge AG, bridge builders Mabey and Johnson, Liberty Apparel, Daewoo, Haliburton, Control Components and even the producers of a movie called "Rescue Dawn" are all tangled in court somewhere for bribery and other criminal activities. The disregard for the employees, customers and suppliers of these companies is breathtaking. Thousands of people's livelihoods and well being hinges on the actions of the managers of these companies, and the people who accepted that responsibility are lining their own pockets, putting everything and everyone else at risk.
Christians, Jews and Muslims all ascribe to the Old Testament of the Bible, so it does not strike me as forcing my Christian beliefs on much of anyone when I cite the Book of Amos. God tells Amos in Chapter 8 that there are those who wonder when the Sabbath will be over so they can go back to selling wheat with "false balances". He then goes on to tell Amos that the days are coming when people who approach business that way are going to find themselves in some serious misery – including "baldness on every head".
I don't know if God is really going to snatch every unethical businessperson bald, but I do know that only those managers who believe that accepting a paycheck for making decisions that affect the lives of employees, suppliers, customers and communities is a sacred trust – that it confers a responsibility for putting the welfare of those who have placed their trust in you ahead of your own interests - can ever achieve lean results.