Why Business Leaders Vote “No” for Lean?

Every Lean promoter and advocate knows that the adoption of Lean management is in business leaders’ interests, not against their interests. The interests encompass that of the business itself and all its stakeholders: employees (executive and non-executive), suppliers, customers, investors, communities, and even competitors. Yet, business leaders, over some 30 years, have delivered a clear and consistent message: Lean management is not in our interest; we are against it. July 20, 2018 by

As a result, we see widespread use of Lean tools but very few Lean transformations. We see widespread engagement among wage earners and especially professional staff, but little engagement among executives. We see small gains in productivity and cost reduction, but we see few examples of the big gains that result from continuous flow and just-in-time.

What we see is Classical management with the addition of some Lean tools. In other words, we see no change.

If it is in business leaders’ interest to adopt Lean, why do they perpetually vote against it? Why do most leaders vote against their own interests?

The full embrace of Lean management sets in motion a giant redistribution problem; a redistribution of pretty much everything, to greater or lesser extents, that exists in a business. Lean transformation means a redistribution of wealth, power, control, prestige, status, time, knowledge, responsibilities, human interaction, recognition, training, focus, priorities, work, energy, beliefs (sentiments), behaviors (for leaders and non-leaders), competencies, rewards, historical preferences, prejudices, support, and perquisites, to name just a few.

It is no secret that most business leaders view wage earners and professional staff negatively from a social status perspective, and for executives to view themselves as higher status and more worthy, or of greater value to the organization, than others.

In addition, there is the question of whether wage earners and professional staff deserve the benefits that come from redistribution. If the perception among executives is that wage earners and professional staff are well-compensated yet still underperform to business needs or executives’ expectations, then Lean management (redistribution) in its full form will not be forthcoming. In other words, wage earners and professional staff do not deserve Lean management.

Wage earners and professional staff may have legitimate needs with respect to doing their job, which Lean management can actualize, to help the business grow and become more successful. But, those needs will go unfulfilled so long as the budget owners view them, the primary beneficiaries of redistribution, as inferior.

So even though the continuation of Classical management does broad harm to the many – humanity, the economy, the environment, and so on – executives continue to vote for it because it serves their interests in avoiding redistribution. This explains why efforts to “sell” Lean management to business leaders are destined to fail. The logic of business (money-making) and the logic of Lean are not aligned.

Toyota’s management system, and its derivative Lean management, set off a revolution in consciousness about what leadership and management should be. But it also generated a backlash because Lean management is not commensurate with business leaders’ view of the workforce and its view of entitlement – a right to individual respect, challenging work, social fulfillment, and economic prosperity – and its achievement via the wholesale redistribution of business affairs.

It is difficult to imagine Lean making further inroads into the practice of management if such fundamental problems as this continue to be ignored by Lean’s promoters and advocates.

What is easy to imagine is Lean promoters and advocates continuing to complain about how business leaders don’t “get it,” continued glorification of the few business leaders that do “get it,” and perpetually wishing for more Lean leaders like them. So stop complaining, praising, and wishing. The core problems have now been carefully and comprehensively analyzed, like never before, and I offer solutions and inspiration for you to develop new ideas here, here, herehere, and here. So, read these things and get to work on improvement. Try something and see, and keep on trying.

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