I never thought the day would come when I got genuinely excited about business management. I do not own a business. Nor am I a manager. Be that as it may, I can’t stop thinking about the potential applications of something called “lean management.”
Have you ever trained in a new hire? If so, perhaps you’ve watched as their initial eagerness and exuberance fade into doldrum and routine upon their learning “how things are done around here.” Perhaps you advised:
No, you’re working too hard….
No, we don’t do it like that….
No, that’s not your job….
Listen, if you expect things to make sense, you’re just going to end up frustrated and disappointed. Go with the flow.
I must confess to having dispensed such advice on more than one occasion. Deep down, I have always resented it. Responding to the muted exuberance of a new hire, I recall my own lost exuberance and ask:
Why don’t things make sense around here? Why doesn’t it pay to work harder? Shouldn’t processes be as efficient as possible?
Meh, that’s above my pay grade. It’s for the managers to worry about. I’m just here for the paycheck.
Organizational structure and management style enable such fatalism and contribute to an inefficient and even antagonistic workforce. When initiative and innovation go unrewarded and even punished, the game becomes doing just enough in just the right way to stay below the radar.
Concisely introduced in the above video, lean management presents an alternative to the modern management style employed in most organizations. Instead of managerial authority, lean management concerns itself with managerial responsibility. Instead of judging performance by results, lean management judges performance by process, recognizing that properly performed processes will deliver intended results. Instead of coming up with an authoritative plan, lean management conducts experiments in a kind of scientific process utilizing feedback to constantly adjust the plan. Instead of making decisions in sterile conference rooms looking at data without context, lean management gets its hands dirty inspecting the value-creation process and asking workers about their work. Speaker Jim Womack outlines these points in greater detail in the video below.
You can begin to imagine what it might be like to work in an organization managed in this way. Exuberance and enthusiasm would suddenly become welcome and profoundly relevant. You would be encouraged to offer feedback and solicit experimental changes to processes. Your job would be safe when innovation fails, because it would be generally understood that experiments are experiments. When innovation worked, you would be rewarded and fulfilled.
The quirky genius of lean management is that it’s not even clever. It’s just the recognition of objective reality and the application of the scientific method to the craft of management. Things are what they are. Processes work how they work. And we ought to adjust our plans accordingly. It’s stupid brilliant.