Ever since the beginning of progressive management, starting with Scientific Management in the late 1800s and all the way to Lean management today, workers have had the same six criticisms. Progressive management is bad because it will:

  • De-humanize me
  • Speed me up and burn me out
  • De-skill me
  • Take away my knowledge
  • Take away my creativity
  • Cost me my job

Workers are right to fear progressive management, because, more likely than not, their leaders do not understand it at all and because they ignore the “Respect for People” principle. Most leaders think progressive management is a more effective way to cut costs and lay people off. The purpose of progressive (Lean) management is the exact opposite: to grown and improve, and to do so in ways that do not cause harm to the people in the organization or to any of its stakeholders (suppliers, customers, investors, and communities). Lean, and the pursuit of flow, must do no harm. If it does, then that is Fake Lean.

Nobody wants to be the loser. So don’t make people, especially employees, the loser. Simply put, it ceases to be Lean management the moment it is used for bad. If leaders make employees the loser, then efforts to create a high-performing organization will obviously fail. That should be easy to understand.

So, what should managers do to eliminate the six criticisms of Lean management in an organization?

Yes-LeanThere is no one method for doing so. Leaders have to do many things, beginning with having a correct understanding of the purpose and intent of Lean management and recognize they have a poor understanding of “Respect for People.” Then, they must themselves participate in improvement activities – especially kaizen – both to learn Lean management and understand its interconnections, nuances, and details, and to consistently demonstrate to employees that Lean will not cause them harm. Employees want to see evidence of the application of Lean principles and practices by their leaders, and tangible, non-zero-sum (win-win), outcomes that prove Lean is beneficial to them and to other stakeholders.

Any employee who has experienced REAL Lean, knows that it:

  • Humanizes the workplace and improve cooperation, communication, and enthusiasm for work
  • Focuses and energizes me
  • Adds skills to my repertoire 
  • Increases my knowledge
  • Increases my creativity
  • Makes my job more valuable and secure

If these are not the outcomes, they you’re not doing Lean management. And you’re causing harm to people. That is not in your job description. So why do you do it?

2 Responses to Eliminating the Six Criticisms of Lean

  1. Bob, I think you are discussing a very valid point here. A complete Lean implementation needs to take care of all these issues. For me, it is the difference between the “Dark Side of Lean”, which only utilizes some tools, and that not even well, but lacks the spirit on the one hand and on the other hand respect for people and what you call “Real Lean”.

    Nevertheless, in my more doubtful moments I tend to question it all. What, if “Lean” or “Progressive Management” are just the sugar-coating on a frog that teams need to swallow? What, if the alienation caused by “Classical Management” cannot be overcome by going Lean?

    What do you think?

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      Hi Jens – I think we all have moments of doubt. Classical or conventional management is indeed a large barrier to overcome – and likely insurmountable for most because it is so deeply entrenched in all processes and in how we think. Organizations will die because change seems so impossible to those who lead. This is unfortunate because people will have needlessly suffered: employees, supplier, customers, investors, and communities.

      But there are many reasons for optimism. We know so much more today about Lean management and how to lead a Lean organization compared to even just 20 years ago. We know what works and what does not work. We also understand the forms of resistance we face, their origins, and what we can do about that. Careful study of both Lean success and failure have helped greatly to inform us.

      It is my hope that workers and investors will begin to understand REAL Lean and demand it from their management, because they, and other key stakeholders, will experience better outcomes.

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