Manufacturing Panel Gives Tips On Sprouting Lean Initiatives

By John Sheridan Employee attitudes often present a major obstacle for plants embarking on the path to lean manufacturing. Consequently, the challenge to management is to cultivate an atmosphere conducive to implementing the necessary changes, advised participants in a panel discussion at the Assn. for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) annual conference in Boston earlier this month. One of the most common mistakes that companies make is introducing lean initiatives in such a way that they are perceived as the "program of the month," observed John Shook, a partner with the Lean Enterprise Institute, Dexter, Mich. "People in many plants have seen a lot of leaders come and go, and they know how to wait it out. So we have to be careful about the messages that we give. It is important to emphasize that 'We're in this for the long haul.'" Another common mistake, said Timothy A. Costello, CEO of Builder Homesite Inc., Austin, is to underestimate the amount of knowledge employees require. "They need a thorough grounding in the tools and principles of lean. Too many companies fail to provide an adequate grounding." Equally important is how managers deal with "the whiners," noted Michael Joyce, vice president for operating excellence at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Bethesda, Md., complex. "We call them CAVE people -- for 'citizens against virtually everything'," he quipped. "We tell them we will give them the opportunity to learn to do things the new way. But if they are real anchor-draggers, you have to get them out of there -- and fast." However, Joyce emphasized, "Sometimes you need CAVE people in your organization. They play an important role by forcing you to be honest with yourself."

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