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The people that matter June 28, 2006

Posted by Tom in Opinion, Workforce.

I’ve noticed a lot of recognition lists getting published recently, from Newsweek’s latest “15 People Who Make America Great” to the Smithsonian’s “35 Who Made a Difference” (Good golly, that was published in November? Where has time gone?!) to the American Film Institute’s “100 Years … 100 Cheers: America’s Most Inspiring Movies.”

Evolving Excellence brings another list to light: CNN’s “50 People Who Matter Now.” Like any good weblog, it dissects the list and proposes its own list of Real Important Folks. Evolving Excellence is a blog dedicated to examining lean management principles, so their heroes are those who are critical to the world of lean, especially those in manufacturing. If you are trying to figure out the fascinating landscape of lean, this blog is a great jumping-off point.

Of note is the last of their top 10, “The Production Workers:”

American manufacturing workers have been been conned. lied to, used, and abused by managers and labor unions for better than a century. Through it all they have shown up for work every morning and done the job of making what America and the world has needed.

They have been led down so many primrose paths of management schemes and false union promises that their skepticism of lean manufacturing initiatives is easily understandable.

The future of American manufacturing rests in very large measure on their willingness to give us another shot – to take us at our word when we promise true involvement and participation in the continuous improvement of our organizations. In the end, American manufacturing depends on lean manufacturing, and lean manufacturing depends on the people in the factories to commit to contributing their knowledge, creativity and experience, then on our willingness as managers to treasure that contribution.

Reflecting on this, it’s clear that we have a special workforce and a special culture that nurtures this workforce. But this should not be taken for granted. One of the “root causes” we uncovered in determining the reasons for occupational and skills shortages during Northeast Indiana’s Strategic Skills Initiative planning was that the bonds of loyalty between employer and employee need to be stronger – a LOT stronger. Reduced turnover, assuming that workforce is operating at peak productivity, means lower end costs. (Less money on recruiting, remedial training, etc.) And an employee who stays for the right reasons is generally a happy employee, adding to the positive culture of the workplace.

As the ties that bind grow weaker – especially in manufacturing, under the pressures forced by global competition – we all must be consciously aware of the need to nurture and support our workforce. That might involve advanced training, professsional development, encouragement to innovate (like Google) or even a public show of encouragement. Management and labor are in this global fight together – and we need to work as a team to succeed. If lean management is the way to make it happen, so be it.



1. Torsten - July 19, 2006

A Lean Manufacturing initiative can only be successful, if the workers really by into it. To avoid firing people afterwards, first fire all the dry wood at hand. So sort out Human resources issues before starting any such initiative.

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