The Human Side of Lean

            Surveys can be useful, but they have their limitations. I'm not sure whether a survey can identify the best management practices, but it might give some indication of what a company should be doing. So with that qualification, I found interesting a new survey of employees and supervisors, which claims to identify five key management practices that can predict successful lean transformation.

            The survey is described in a recent issue of Target, the magazine of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence. The authors are Dr. Monica Tracey, assistant professor in the Human Resource Development Department at Oakland University and a founding member of the Pawley Institute; and Jamie Flinchbaugh, co-founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center. Jamie is also author of the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.

            There were two versions of the survey – one for employees working under direct supervision, the other for supervisors and managers charged with ensuring lean practices within their departments. Each survey contained more than 60 questions. The authors obtained 154 responses to the worker survey, and 72 responses to the manager survey.

            So what does it take from a management perspective to make lean work? The five variables are:

  • Development of teams as a supporting structure of lean.
  • Calculation and communication of metrics.
  • Communication among organization members, particularly across organizational barriers.
  • Communication to employees regarding their specific role in lean transformation.
  • Acknowledgement and celebration of successes toward lean transformation.

            None of this is particularly surprising, but the list can serve as a useful bit of education for companies new to lean that tend to think conducting kaizen events is all they need to do.

            The only quibble I have with the survey relates to the description of the results. The Target article suggests that the findings are of most use to HR departments, and says the survey revealed “not only how HR, but leadership creates better organizational conditions to support lean transformation.”

            Further, the headline on the article is “How Human Resource Departments Can Help Lean Transformation.”

            Yes, HR can and should help, but the survey findings are really about overall management strategy and tactics, not just what HR does. In that sense, the article presentation is a bit too narrow.

            Near its end, the article offers HR departments specific recommendations. These recommendations are, again, not exclusively for HR departments, though they should certainly be involved in each of area.

The suggestions are to engage in further research on: how to create and maintain a lean culture; how to recruit and hire a lean-ready person; how to pay and reward a lean employee, further explore the skills and capabilities to maintain lean leadership over a long period of time.

Good suggestions all – but not just for HR.

1 comment:

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