Getting middle management to support lean implementation

BRW March 28 of May 1, 2013 had an article written by Fiona Smith entitled “death-defying middle management.” The article highlighted the report by a psychometric testing company SHL with the company has conducted global research for five years on personality assessments. They found that middle management was more likely to miss important data, not understand the impact of their decisions, be unable to articulate their decisions or failed to build networks. The article highlights this is due to a lack of training in the middle management part of the business, due to cost-cutting after the financial crisis. While Australia has very well trained front-line people and top-level management, those in the middle are more likely to have good technical skills rather than aptitude to become good managers. Another influencing factor is the size of Australian companies. Australia has only 268 companies that have more than 1000 employees and only 63 that employ more than 4000 people. Many small to medium companies do not have the ability to support this middle level of management.

This got Michelle Brown, TXM senior facilitator, thinking about what this means for implementing a lean enterprise system into a company. We see the top levels of management very enthusiastic about a new lean program. Their “burning platforms” issues are to be addressed through a range of the Lean tools and they understand how this will improve the bottom line of their company. The shop floor teams finally gets time to give their workplace a good cleanup and have the opportunity to provide imports to ways they think they can make their jobs more efficient.

Middle management is often unaware of the bigger plans to the top-level management have for this Lean Implementation process. They are also expected to collate the ideas that the shop floor teams provide and are often responsible for creating the documentation needed to support good lean implementation. Especially during the early phases of implementing a project, the workload of middle management is increased. Shop floor teams are unable to take on the responsibility of these new processes until they are documented and embedded into the daily work.

So what can we do to help out our middle management during lean implementation?

Firstly make sure they are fully briefed as to the scope and expectations of the lean project. While they may not be included in the initial discussions they do need to be brought up to speed before the project begins. We need to help them see the bigger picture and understand that the short term increasing workload will bring longer-term improvement.

Secondly, we need to ensure that our company has sufficient resources to support middle management during implementation. This includes good computer skills to be able to take photos and document 5S standards and work standards, as well as good time management skills to be able to budget their team’s time carefully, making sure the production needs are still met while implementing these new processes.

Lastly, we need to include cell leaders and frontline managers, making it clear that they need to support middle management while implementing lean projects. Daily production issues like scheduling and parts supply need to be made the responsibility of those closest to the Value-added processes. This helps give the cell leaders take control over their work teams and also begins to free up middle management to do the higher-level management function.

So as you begin to plan your next lean project make sure you give special consideration to how you communicate and involve your middle management. By including them in the discussions and training upfront you are insuring your best chances of success.


BRW article


Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions