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You Want to Work for a Company Run Like This

You're right. Your boss sucks. Here's why.

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

March 14, 2014 - 7:26 am
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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.

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Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the boards of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority and the Minority Liberty Alliance. He maintains a blog and daily podcast entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of conservative Minnesotan commentary, and regularly appears on the Twin Cities News Talk Weekend Roundtable on KTCN AM 1130. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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Top Rated Comments   
I don't buy it, and yes, I know lean, 6 sigma, kaizen, Deming and his red/white balls etc. Problems start at the top and no one at the top will allow themselves to be corrected. First, the ever increasing complexity of government regulations and taxes drive business behaviors and outcomes. Next, stockholder demand for ever increasing stock value drive boards and their businesses to always seek increasing profits in a world crowded with competitors. And the fact that most Boards of Directors and Business management teams (i.e. CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) do what they please regardless of their responsibility to stockholders also influences business behavior.

When the only score card is the quarterly earnings statement, don't expect any real interest in long term stability or vision. One could argue that the 2007-8 meltdown of the investment/banking/automotive industries were a result of desperate managers taking insane risks to keep return on investments going up despite reality. Since the government forced taxpayers to bail them out, they still haven't learned any lessons.

As for medium and small businesses, thanks to Obama and his fascist cronies, they won't last too much longer as viable business entities as they are forced to pay increased taxes and mandatory overtime and increased minimum pay and increased benefits that price their products above that which the market will pay, while their big competitors get waivers, tax breaks and guaranteed loans backed by the government at taxpayer and small business expense. Yes, Obama is changing America in a manner that would make Mussolini proud.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
B-School fads are the biggest reason American companies are struggling.

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (24)
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You should never believe that you can replace outcome focus with process focus. While the process is important and needs to be efficient and to suit the people in the workplace, the process only exists to achieve a measurable outcome. A total focus on process is why Governments can never seem to ever achieve anything.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The main problem that I experience with all these processes like Six Sigma and Lean Mfg is that management treats them like they are the only way to problem solve and they demand that they be used exclusively.

I feel like I've got a damn nice toolkit of well used tools that work great, but then the managers are shown a fancy new tool that can be used for nearly any job. They eagerly buy the shiny new tool and give it to me, explaining how it can do the same job as all the tools in my tool kit. I look at the new tool, and I see it's potential for making a certain class of jobs much easier to do than my current tool kit would allow, so I gladly accept the new tool and go about my business.

Later, the managers see me using one of my old tools on a job and they ask why I'm not using the new tool. I explain that while the new tool could do this job, it has to be configured to do so, and that would be overkill for such a simple job that the old tool was designed specifically to do quickly and efficiently. The managers are now unhappy with me and demand that I use the new tool instead. I try to explain that the new tool works much better on certain jobs, and I will use it for sure on those, but jobs like this are done far more efficiently with the old tool. The managers will hear none of it and order me to use the new tool.

So, I begin to configure the new tool to do the job, but the managers get upset because it's taking me longer. I try to explain about the configuration process, but they say I'm just making excuses because I want to use the old tool. Then they make new work rules that require use of the new tool at least 3 times per week, and they will audit the use of the new tool to confirm compliance. Satisfied with themselves, they leave me to my work.

After they are gone, I get the old tool out and finish the job. I think about ways I can use to new tool to do meaningless jobs that won't impact my productivity, but will allow me to meet the 3 times per week target the managers have set. When they come to audit me, I put on the dog and pony show with the new tool. With great satisfaction, they applaud the demonstration and leave me alone for another week...
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
A lot of this is familiar to me as a former Quality Manager in aviation. To a large degree it is how the Quality System should have directed our company. Apart from one old fart of a manager who was a bit beyond working differently it worked quite well in a small company.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Modern big business management "processes" seem almost universally designed to eliminate the wisdom gained by age and experience, replacing it with consensus and "diversity." Of course, how can we ever realize the utopian dreams of the new central planners if they keep getting informed by the likes of me that we already tried it their way a dozen times in the past and it still hasn't worked.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"lean" is one of the hot buzzwords the last couple of years, everyone uses it for everything, the actual contents of this video were nothing like I expected. For that matter this video seems to have been written from random snippets of similar lean manifestos. And it's mostly misconceived. What was the first principle, "Pull"? Seriously? Absurd. You're supposed to sit around until a customer comes along and says, "Please build me a better mousetrap." Then you do. Unfortunately it takes you eleven years, and when you go to deliver it to the customer a giant rat answers the door.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Lean management" reeks of being yet another management fad that most companies will never fully implement despite lip service. The burial ground includes Deming's approaches, Drucker's approaches, "management by walking around", Total Quality Management, Six Smegma—uh, Sigma, and others.

The reality is that most companies in the past and today are run like little Soviet Unions. Managers are more equal than everyone else, even the guy on the floor who knows what's really happening. Managers really don't want to hear anything from the low-level employee. I say this as an ex-employee at a company that supposedly was implementing TQM, but at my branch the padlocked employee suggestion box had not been opened in the two years before my departure. Lean management implies employee autonomy and choices, as with TQM. Guess how far that's really going to go in practice.

And about the old Bolshevik dictim "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs": at all too many companies, the best workers are told at review time that they can't get "exceeds expectations" because "everyone has room for improvement". Or "So-and-so at a rarefied upper management level has to approve any high evaluations and he won't normally do so." So everyone remains paid and evaluated about the same in most organizations, no matter their relative efforts.

Lean management is of no relevance because at these companies their Soviet–style diktat will continue.

Forget this. It's just another fad.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
just keep your resume up to date, and always be looking for another job.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Instead of judging performance by results, lean management judges performance by process..."

I work for a major manufacturer of large products (no names, but our prestige product currently is a plastic commercial airliner) and "Lean" is as thick in the bureaucratic atmosphere as garlic at Luigi's Italian Bistro.
It doesn't work. Would it? Perhaps if it were ever actually tried; but the old school approach continues to prevail because human nature is what it is. This "process" that the author vaunts so enthusiastically ends up being the be-all and end-all, used by the bureaucracy as a dodge and an excuse for not providing "results". Many's the time I have tried to use Lean practices to make changes that would improve productivity or reduce costs, and my ideas all died a-borning, strangled in their cribs by detached cubicle people who cited those all-important Lean Processes as taking precedence over efficient effective action. It is needed now: the mills of Lean will grind exceeding fine and deliver it, after innumerable collaborative engagements, brainstorming sessions and "accelerated improvement meetings" in 18 months - long after everyone has given up and forgotten about it. And the forgetting is the real point; process it into oblivion and they will go away and I can return to my internet browsing.
Lean, in practice, is simply the Civil-Service-ization of private enterprise, resulting in an even more entrenched and unresponsive bureaucracy. Sorry.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I had to learn a new vocabulary every time we got a new director or commissioner, and we got a new one about every two years and after every election. In twenty-odd years in government, first federal then state, I was never more than two levels below political authority and for most of my career was a direct report to political authority until I became an appointee myself. Only in my early days did I ever have a supervisor or manager who actually knew the work. The two banes of my life were the newly minted appointee who'd just read a book by some Biz School professor and the newly minted MBA who'd just been hired by the newly minted appointee to make things right.

The great enemy of production and profitability is the manager who doesn't know anything about the work or the product. Both government and corporations, but especially government, are terrible about the "a degree" minimum qualification for upper level clerical/technical and lower level supervisory/managerial jobs. An MBA will get you a managerial job even if you've never done anything in your life but go to school.

A kid fresh out of college with a "studies" degree can start at a lead or supervisory level above people who've done the actual work for years. In government, that kid with the "studies" degree can be a manager if five years if he knows how to suck up well or she knows how to suck well. In ten years if s/he writes a few checks and goes to the right grip 'n grins or if she sleeps in the right beds, s/he can be a policy level manager or political appointee.

There may have been a time when the college grad with a general or liberal arts bachelor's degree merited a position above production or delivery of service employees but that day is long gone. Most are just surly over-aged teenagers with poor communications skills who had the resources to avoid the workforce for four or five extra years. A business degree really only acquaints one with enough of the spells and incantations of business/management current fashion to allow one to pass as a supervisor or manager without actually knowing anything about the work.

The domestic auto industry didn't die because of costs, taxes, or regulations. If that were the case the German cars wouldn't have a prayer in the US market. The US auto industry died because they stopped having "car people" run the companies and started making junk cars that while they might have turned a short term profit, they ruined the brand. Even Ford, the last true American car make,r is a very different company from the FMC of the '60s still run by a guy whose name was on the building. I think that is true of most durable goods; when the people who designed and built the product moved on and the "professional managers" took over, the brand died or became just a name attached to some junk made in China.

In government, most people who make it into political management in a Republican administration just want to avoid controversy and those in political management in a Democrat administration want to hand out other people's money to Democrat constituencies while avoiding controversy. Democrats have it easier on the controversy front because the media rarely peeks up their skirts and they're always hounding Republicans.

The deal with government is that it really is pretty much a zero-sum game; whenever you do something for someone, you're doing something to someone else. If you want to cut the cost of a program, you're cutting the number of employees or the pay of employees or you're cutting into the profits and salaries of the grantee or contractor to the program. If I were suddenly put in charge of my State's government, I know a way to reorganize it so that a Republican governor could actually run it with loyal, competent Republicans instead of largely having to run it with holdover Democrats and totally self-centered congenital bureaucrats. But, there are several hundred high-level managers who'd lose their jobs as the result and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the employees, the media, and the constituencies they've served would be deafening, so it would be the rarest of Republican governors who'd take the political heat for doing it. Most won't even take the heat for firing Democrat appointees below the cabinet level. Our last Democrat governor, Tony Knowles, left office in December of 2002 and we've had Republicans Frank Murkowski, Sarah Palin, and now Sean Parnell, yet at least a third of Knowles second term appointees are still in place and most of those that are gone are gone on their own terms or because they reached retirement age, not because they were replaced with Republicans. I was there for all but the last six months of Murkowski and we only replaced about a third of the Knowles appointees below the Cabinet level and Sarah pretty much only replaced the Murkowski appointees and even brought back some holdovers that we'd run off. You
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
" The US auto industry died because they stopped having "car people" run the companies and started making junk cars that while they might have turned a short term profit, they ruined the brand. "

Bingo.

Same for other kinds of engineering companies. EXAMPLE: Sprint is a very, VERY different telecom because has always been run by the B-school boys, while Verizon still has a culture inherited from Ma Bell, where the engineers ran things. Sprint has had major layoffs every 2-3 years since its birth. Verizon? Never. Some trimming here and there once in a while. No major layoffs.

It spills over into politics, too.

The FCC used to be mostly a-poilitical, run by the engineers. Commissioners were chosen from the ranks, and were engineers.

Now they are political hacks, and the engineering sits in the back of the bus.

The B-school mentality destroys whatever it touches.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Many of the comments express negative viewpoints about business management. Conservatives and Libertarians and some Modern Liberals look to business models as a way to create an efficient government, In this vein, the disagreements are mainly about the degree of government control.

Problem is, is that business models are no panacea either. Reading the comments here and with broader experience, most managers/employees work in an environment that could be termed adversarial.

The idea that "business" can rescue the cultural looks to be a hollow idea. If such widespread mal operation exists in business, how can that be applied with any good effect to government operations? Or for that matter to the wider culture?

It is a myth that "business" in it's present form, will "rescue" our society if only regulations and other obstacles are removed. Not that removal is a bad thing. The malfeasance is there too, government is not alone in the development of a values hostile environment that exists in workplaces.

Different approaches such as the ideas in Mr. Hudson's piece will difficult in the making, and will probably be crushed at the outset, or at the change of upper management. Management culture is such that it is based of personal interactions, with the bottom line looked at a result of successful "Team", read personal interactions. It is who knows who, who will cover for who, who is "friends" with who, and those who do not abide by the "real rules" are quickly eliminated or marginalized.

This fake feel good culture is widely present, taught in schools all the up, and ferociously enforced. Since "they" all experience the same education, especially higher education, in principle, "business" will not be much different in the end than government. Personality based, with work as being secondary.

There are islands that are different, some businesses are different, but as that age and become larger and more successful, the default cultural business model pertaining to personal relations vs the reality of profit, where profit all too often falls to a secondary role, becomes the norm

This is by no means an endorsement of Marxian ideas, it is a repudiation of the peddlers of pull.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
There exist three adaptive layers in any organization: lean for the executive, adaptive for the middle manager, and dozens of different names for agile at the production level. Each is antagonistic to the other.

Lean for the executives is a philosophy that nothing is etched in stone. But as you descend into the processes and production lines in every organization you discover that there is already a "path of least resistance" approach to everything. This is the equivalent of "etched in stone" for the current conditions.

Many of the impediments around which people must find the shortest distance are the attitudes and opinions of the executives. Should executive change their philosophy, the lower layers will just have to find another way around in order to do what they want to do, anyway.

Next in line are the obvious influences of the shareholders and the upper managers, as well as the regulatory, logistical, financial, and statutory constraints on every business. Those whose purpose is to produce must find efficient remedies for each of these in the work-a-day task.

These pressures squeeze the middle managers, who have embraced their own adaptive approach that is really not adaptive, but reactive. They resort to a torrent of reporting and graphical tools that track the environmental and navigational changes and their effect on (you guessed it) the ability of the middle manager to look important.

At the production level, where retooling in machines, reprogramming or implementing software solutions, training, materials handling, and even manufacturing processes are even harder to turn than the Queen Mary at flank, the dozens of adaptive technologies exist to battle and manage the constant barrage of change orders coming from the layers above.

As the proverbial crew attempt to respond to orders to change this course, they receive conflicting orders to change that course. Then they get other orders to modify the first and belay the second. Finally, the captain returns from the executive offsite retreat (in the Azores) with the newest buzzwords.

The resultant track, if mapped on the corporate roadmap for the year (or two), would look more like the staggering path of a drunken sailor wandering always downhill toward the pier where he can collapse, broke and drunk, and awake ready for another term at sea.

As much smarter people have observed (and noted in these comments), the only possible survival strategy for an adaptive company is to place either the very top in complete command -- or the very bottom.

Placing the top layer in command is strategically identical to 19th century industrial and managerial philosophy and is the very germ of our business ossification problems. Placing the bottom in charge raises the challenge to the necessity and authority of the (inverted) upper layers. In fact, under this scenario, middle management has no place except as resource and responder to the production layer. (Picture the middle-managerial actually "Reporting" to the production layer.)

(This invalidates, therefore, any benefit or even appropriateness for the middle layer to use their own form of adaptive management. Between either the upper layer or the bottom layer, their only responsible action is to adopt the adaptive techniques of the layer in charge.)

Placing the bottom in command is the only viable, realistic approach to survive in an adaptive philosophy, since they are the only ones with real-world, hands-on experience in the possible. It negates the usefulness and authority of those historically valued by their self-descriptions of use and authority. It values outcomes rather than intent. It reduces decisions to facts rather than buzz or intuition.

It is, therefore, unrealistic, unavailable for 99.99 percent of the corporate fiefdoms, and is, therefore, unthinkable.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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