Reflecting on McGregor’s X and Y Theories of human motivation, Shigeo Shingo took the position that each of us by nature has a dual tendency: sometimes lazy and self-interested, and other times motivated and generous. Which of these behaviors dominates is directly related to the environment in which we find ourselves – call it culture.
My personal experience as a manager, and as an employee, has surely confirmed Shingo’s opinion for me. Dropped into a manufacturing management role in 1986 with NO manufacturing experience, I had the opportunity to experience a quintessential Type X culture. My predecessor, a man of considerable personal knowledge of the business, had ruled for decades with an iron fist, intolerant of opinions other than his own. I remember commenting to a friend when I first took over the manufacturing VP job, “it seems like employees are children and production employees are bad children.” Transferring from an IT role in a different building to this new world of distrust and muted dissatisfaction was indeed a culture shock for me. After a short time on the job, my general foreman presented me with a list of employees to “keep an eye on.” He thought he was being helpful. “Troublemakers,” he whispered to me.
It turns out that a few of the troublemakers became early adopters of a different kind of culture, one where employees would be seen as “the most valuable resource.” What distinguished these rabble-rousers was that they had refused to be beaten down by the previous regime. My role as a manager was, in the words of Mr. Shingo, to turn their dissatisfaction (Theory X) into “constructive dissatisfaction” (Theory Y.) At the time I described the experience as akin to freeing prisoners. I wasn’t making them participate; I was just asking for their help. That seemingly simple shift ruffled more than a few feathers in management, a humbling experience I documented in a 2012 post jokingly entitled Lead with Humiliation. Lean transformation, I discovered, while difficult for everyone, is hardest for managers.
So, what does this story have to do with the words "accountability" and "authority"? In 2006, I had the pleasure of listening to David Mann, author of "Creating a Lean Culture", deliver a presentation at the Shingo Conference on Leader Standard Work (LSW.) “A novel concept,” I thought to myself. “Why not clarify the manager’s role in developing a Lean culture?” So much effort had already been put into transforming front-line systems, but very little in transforming the management systems for folks who were steering the ship. In fact, the concept to engage managers by check-listing key culture-changing management activities, caught on in a big way. Many an organization I visit today has attempted to add LSW to its Lean transformation. Unfortunately, fifteen years and millions of white boards later, what seemed like a good concept is failing in execution. Here are my observations.
"Creating a Lean Culture" depicts the Lean management system as comprised of three parts:
From the foregoing rant, it may seem that I don’t subscribe to concepts put forth in "Creating a Lean Culture"; but in fact, fifteen years after its publication, I continue to believe that if employees have both ability and authority, then the guidance and alignment provided by a Lean management system is imperative. That is Theory Y. As David Mann reminds us, “Execution is the key to lean management.” The authority to execute, today as in 2006, rests squarely on the shoulders of executives.
What is your experience creating a Lean management system? Can you share a story or observation?
Hope to see you all at our 15th annual Northeast LEAN Conference in Hartford, October 23-24. The topic of engagement – employees and execs – will be a main focus. Our theme this year, Total Employee Involvement, combines the knowledge and experience of leading practitioners and experts. Want more information? Click here.