I got a couple of things wrong lately and figured it is high time I set the record straight – came clean and apologized for misleading anyone. I wrote recently that it is an eternal business truth that "you get what you pay for". I am very, very sorry if anyone in the manufacturing business in southern England opted to pack their bags and head up to University of Leicester, instead of calling the Southwest Manufacturing Advisory Service in Cheltenham just because the University charges a whole lot more for their lean thinking.
I also apologize for anyone who might have dismissed the Southwest MAS because a certain Linda Middleton-Jones dispenses lean advise there and she happens to have been a lawyer in a prior life. I know I have trashed lawyers as unable to provide manufacturing leadership, but Ms. Middleton-Jones is walking proof that I am wrong, and that lawyers can reform their wayward thinking and, in fact, become outstanding lean leaders and thinkers.
To show just how wrong I was, you might want to read a bit of pompous nonsense from a professor Ashton from the University in which he asserts that training and involving workers is not always a good idea – especially if you are mass producing and do not see any particular need for the production folks brainpower. He seems to think that only niche sort of companies that provide some special ‘value added’ feature or service should invest in training. According to the good professor, if you are following a "Fordism" approach to manufacturing – like Toyota, for example – training is a waste of money. Only cutting costs is important and the training budget is a good place to start.
"The fact is, says Professor David Ashton, of the Centre for Labour Market Studies at Leicester University, that many businesses understand only too well that raising the skills of their employees eats into profits." On the contrary, my egg-headed friend – the fact is that you demonstrate an appalling ignorance of both people and the nature of manufacturing.
Like the reformed attorney, Professor Ashton can be rehabilitated. He just may be able to walk in the footsteps of former educator Allen Brue who saw the error of his academic ways, tossed his tweed jackets and meerschaum pipes in the trash and got into manufacturing. As the top dog at Quick Start Products & Solutions, he launched a comprehensive training program, and has radically increased sales without missing an on time shipment for two and a half years.
Until Professor Ashton gets religion, however, a UK manufacturer looking for a little help with the lean journey would be very well served by calling on Ms. Middleton-Jones and the rest of the folks at the Southwest MAS. They took the ‘lean journey’ concept quite literally and, among many other things, launched an "On The Road To Lean" program that has all sorts of UK manufacturers – from those just starting to get their arms around lean to old pros like Toyota and the Barden Corporation – traveling around England, talking to each other and swapping ideas. In fact, taking the next tour might be a great place for the professor to start getting religion – one participant described the experience as something akin to a Billy Graham Crusade. I think it is a safe bet that the MAS imparts more useful information in a few weeks through their Strategic Management Programme than the University does in better than a year at the feet of the professor and his associates.
The moral of the story is that common sense trumps self-proclaimed expert opinion every time. Whether the expert is the professor expounding on the down side of training under ‘Fordism’ or me blubbering about getting what you pay for, ex-lawyers like Linda and ex-professors like Allen are the real experts. They are the people out there changing the way the world manufacturers one kaizen event and one bus trip to Toyota at a time.
Note: If anyone wants a copy of the Southwest MAS ‘On The Road To Lean’ report – and I especially recommend it to any of the MEPs – drop me an email and I’ll send a copy to you.