First, I don’t think your front line supervisors are intentionally subverting your lean initiative.  Nor do I think that your front line supervisors are naturally inclined to resist your lean initiatives. In my own experience, they tend to be very supportive of lean concepts and tools. But your supervisors, over the years, have probably learned some behaviors that don’t fit well with lean practices. (Another, more pointed way of saying that is, you’ve taught your supervisors a set of behaviors that don’t fit well with lean practices.) 

Some of the behaviors that I’ve seen well-intentioned supervisors evince that hinder your lean efforts are:

  • an attraction to “fire-fighting” rather than true problem solving,
  • a “keep it running, no matter what” approach,
  • a “turn the speed up” approach,
  • a reluctance to delegate tasks or projects to operators,
  • reluctance to engage in standard practices themselves, even as they espouse the value of standard operator practices,
  • reluctance to orient, train, and coach employees.

Once again, your supervisors are engaging in these behaviors, not because they are stubborn and ornery but because that’s what they’ve been rewarded for in the past. Now your lean initiative is bringing a very different way of doing business into their operations. And you’re probably doing it in a way that doesn’t make very clear exactly what’s expected of them in the new environment. So, naturally, once they walk out of the class room where you told them about the wonderful benefits of lean (and they are wonderful), they’re going to go back to work and do what you’ve taught them to do: fight fires, make it work, keep it running, turn up the speed.

How do you get supervisors to change their hard-earned, hard-learned behaviors? You need to:

  1. give them something different to do,
  2. tell them they have to do the different thing in a different way,
  3. give them the training and support they need to do the different thing a different way.