Paul Yandell is President of Value Stream Focus and has successful and varied manufacturing and operations experience in companies ranging from startups to multinationals. He led a Lean Transformation driven by middle management and I ask him the following question:
Related Podcast and Transcription: Speak to Middle Managers
Joe: I think that’s what’s so important because I always hear this top-down driven type culture and these mandates that we’re going to be a Lean company and it’s got to be the vision from leadership and it’s got to be this saying we’re going to become Lean and everything and I flat out don’t think that works. In certain circumstances, it might work, but…
Paul: Of course, it does work but let’s agree that the middle management makes it work. So if the top management says, “This is how we’re going,” and he’s able to get the alignment within his company top to bottom. Then he’s got it. The real problem is alignment. If you say, you’re going to change, but you don’t change your structure…I mean, Lean is all about turning the triangle upside down. If you look at a triangle, a normal triangle with the apex at the top, this is in a people-centered organization, the classic organization where the boss tells everybody else what to do. If you are continuously, that’s how all your information flows, then what happens is it’s hard to drive change through that organization. You’re going to tell people what to do, but they may or may not buy into it. They’re kind of waiting for you to go away or for the wind to change.
Now, if you can through continuous improvement, through Lean techniques, if you can switch that, flop that triangle around so the apex is at the bottom, now what happens…you have a flat part of the triangle at the top, if you will. Now you have a situation where the supervisor in saying, “OK, I need you to make green ones, 200 of them, and then I need you to make a bunch of red ones, 200 of them.” Instead, now the conversation is, the supervisor is at the bottom of the triangle, and the center of the work is now the operator. Now the conversation is, “OK, operator, how can I help you do your work better? How can I help you improve your operations? How can I help you do a better job?”
Suddenly, the conversation has changed, and it will never go back because the operator goes, “Oh, well you know, my back hurts every day. If you could raise this desk another two inches, this table, or if you could improve my chair, they’d give me a back to my chair, I’d be a lot better.”
Now the operator makes 15 percent more work and then their back doesn’t hurt and now, all their friends, they want you to pay attention to them too. Because, “You helped Mary, why don’t you come over and look at me? I need a better light over here. And you think I could get a new knife? This one has a bad blade, and it takes me forever to cut this item.”
You’d find out all this stuff that you never knew. If you just walk through the area and look at it, everyone looks busy, everyone looks like they know what they’re doing, and no one tells you what they need, because no one ever listened before, why should they listen now? You don’t want to be a complainer. That’s middle management right there.
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