Does Corporate Lean Work?

Reading time ( words)

“Leadership is influence.”

                              ~John Maxwell

It was the winter of 1984, Hoosick Falls, New York. I was sitting in a dark, cold office. Stacks of papers sat scattered on a large formal desk. Shelves were packed with books and other interesting things. And a sign, “Thou Shalt Not Whine,” caught my eye. Like a bolt of lightning, Jim Shaw entered, and he walked behind his desk, sat down, looked at a piece of paper that had been faxed to him and said, “I didn’t know you were coming.” Still not looking at me, he got on the phone and made a quick call, during which he made a remark and a short joke, and then a specific request. He hung up. He repeated the process. All the while he talked on the phone he would occasionally turn and look out the window, as if staring at the person he was speaking to, who might be at the Oak-Mitsui plant, or the Teflon plant, or the flex material plant. After his last call he looked at me and said, “Okay, here is the plan, you will meet with so and so...” And he went on in this way until he said, “And you will have lunch with me at exactly 12:30 p.m.” Then he was gone. I had never been so competently micromanaged in my entire life!

Shaw was the boss of that laminate factory, and it apparent to me within the first microsecond of meeting him. And nobody had a problem with that, including me, the lost puppy who sat in his office not knowing what to do. I was treated as a VIP, and I knew why! In that short span of time with him I was both intimidated and inspired. I wanted to prove to him I was worthy of his attention and my treatment. If he had been my captain in the army during a battle, I would have had no problem running out of my foxhole firing off rounds if he had instructed me to do it. With his command I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Jim is the Johnny Bravo that Simon Sinek talked about in this video I shared in my last column.

Shaw is an operations guy too, and in my interactions with him over the decades, he frequently said, “Get to the end.” So here it is. Corporate Lean doesn’t work and it doesn’t work for two reasons: First, it is a solution outside of the four walls of the plant and second, Lean is about change. You can’t manage change; you have to lead change.

Read the full column here.

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of The PCB Magazine.


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