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«Abstract Number: 020-0007 Lean on Me: Empowered Workforces in Post-Lean Engineering Organisations Harriet Jevon1, Dr Susan C Morton*1 and Dr Helen T ...»

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Number: 020-0007

Lean on Me: Empowered Workforces in Post-Lean

Engineering Organisations

Harriet Jevon1, Dr Susan C Morton*1 and Dr Helen T Wagner1

Wolfson School of Mechanical & Manufacturing

Engineering, Loughborough University, UK

POMS 22nd Annual Conference, Reno, Nevada

April 29 to May 2, 2011


Lean philosophies developed in Japan are utilised in Western manufacturing to facilitate

business improvements through various quality management and improvement systems and strategies, which have been documented comprehensively. But, to what degree empowerment of the workforce results from Lean implementation is a new research subject: most research in this area has concentrated on the objective, organisational benefits accrued.

This paper focuses on the concept of Lean, what quality management and improvement systems and strategies are implemented, to what extent empowerment can be defined as lying within this context, and questions whether Lean philosophies have a positive effect on workforce empowerment. Results from a case study undertaken in a large UK plant of a global manufacturing organisation are analysed, initial findings discussed, and recommendations made to take the subject area forward and thus add to knowledge and practice for the benefit of both academia and industry.

Keywords: Lean, workforce empowerment, Human Resource benefits, manufacturing *

Corresponding author:

Dr S C Morton Lecturer in Engineering Management Wolfson School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering Loughborough University Leicestershire, UK LE11 3TU Email: S.C.Morton@lboro.ac.uk Introduction Lean has evolved with industry and, while continuing to do so, the manner and pace of its development has led to confusion about what Lean really is, and what it is not, thus some clarification is required before proceeding further. Lean is founded on creating value (or perceived value) that is equal to cost reduction, through improvement and removal of wasteful activities [1] and was created by Toyota, who, unable to invest in capital-intensive mass production systems, focused on minimising waste in all operations [2]. Liker [3] published the 14 Toyota Way Principles and clarified that Lean is about developing principles that are right for the specific organisation, rather than imitating the tools initiated by Toyota, as this may not add value to customers and society. The underlying foundation for Lean activities is Kaizen, meaning continuous improvement, and involving everyone including managers and workers [4]. Hines et al. [1] adjusted this to interpret Lean as Kaikaku, which is improvement via breakthrough events, as opposed to continuous improvement per se.

It is important to consider the way that Lean is implemented and what affects it has on the workforce before, during and after implementation; people are key to long-term Lean sustainability, regardless of the industrial sector [1]. Considering manufacturing and service industries, organisations are socio-technical systems, where humans and equipment need to work harmoniously to create and achieve success. This is the challenge when implementing change [5].

Although there has been consideration for the impact of Lean on human resources [2, 6, 7, 8] and employee empowerment [9, 10, 11, 12], there is little research bringing the two areas together. This may be due to the fact that measuring the level of workforce empowerment or other benefits created by Lean is difficult, as individual benefits are more subjective and complex than organisational benefits, which can be measured from objective factual information. Most of the research to date has focused on these measurable, organisational benefits rather than the subjective, individual gains [9]. This work, therefore, focuses on the research opportunity to measure the level of employee empowerment created by the implementation of Lean philosophies and techniques in Western industries.

Literature Review With the success of Lean manufacturing performance highlighted in the Japanese automotive sector, exemplified by Toyota and Nissan too, Lean concepts were transferred to Western manufacturers, who were able to replicate the structural parts of Lean, but had difficulty with the required organisational culture and mindset [2]. The Lean model can be seen as a threat to employees, because it requires less stock, less space, less movement of material, less time to set up the machinery, a smaller workforce, fewer systems and more frugal technology [6]. Yet the Toyota Way means more dependence on people not less, without discussion about the size of the workforce [3]. It is a culture that depends upon the workers, rather than a mere set of efficiency and improvement techniques [3]. A case study completed at Crusader Displays [13], manufacturers of make-to-order shop fittings and display equipment for commercial companies, demonstrated how the company used Lean to improve their efficiency to make profit, without increasing their workforce. “A complete culture change was required, but we needed to re-educate, retrain and develop individual to make it possible. With morale very low, it was important to explain to the workforce that we were looking to make their jobs safe” [13]. The study explains that shop-floor employees needed to be empowered, so that they would take on the responsibility to develop process improvements themselves. Their low morale needed to be replaced by pride, commitment and success. The transformation of workforce thinking rejuvenated the business, with such success achieved by “the same people whose so-called limited ability was thought to be a restraining factor, has exceeded all expectations” [13]. This aligns with Varkey et al [14], who saw that employee and customer satisfaction contribute significantly to the success of organisations.

Lean includes explicit knowledge tools such as Statistical Process Control (SPC), Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA), Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED), fool proofing and process mapping, and tacit knowledge tools such as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Kanban, 5S/5C, standardised working and policy deployment [2]. Six-sigma attacks sources of variation by applying a rigorous set of quality tools [1]. Each of these tools are practised in British-based Research and Development and Manufacturing. For example, Dyson Research and Development reported how Six-Sigma tools have been used to understand FMEA and design of experiments to ensure confidence in improvements. Furthermore, its use has changed the testing of prototypes and products. Specific Six-Sigma tools, such as Taguchi, Design of Experiments (DoE) hypothesis testing and AVOVA, along with 5-Why, 2-How, 5Hats and various specific FMEA have also been covered. Six-Sigma has been streamlined to Design for Six-Sigma, leading to robust design procedures and tolerance stacking using CPk’s. Poke Yoke is used at the design stage and on the line to reduce component and assembly step counts [15].

An example of the implementation of Lean principles within a Manufacturing environment can be seen from the case of Nissan, who transferred their Japanese expertise to their UK plant over a period of 20 years using three levels of abstraction: (i) Kaizen, skill control, 5S/5C and standard operations (ii) autonomous maintenance, just-in-time and systematic problem solving and (iii) TQM and benchmarking [2]. These examples in Research and Development and Manufacturing environments exemplify that Lean does not have a defined end point, but that it provides a direction for a company to continually move forward [8]: “It is a never-ending journey. You cannot sit back – this is competition, we’ve got competitors!” [16].

However, these tools may be making objective organisational improvements and business gains, but what are the individual benefits for the workforce? Are they empowered by the changes? There is no definitive agreement about what implications the adoption of Lean production has for human resources ([17] cited in [6]). Lean should be regarded as more than a set of tools and techniques, remembering that the human dimensions of motivation, empowerment and respect for people are very important. Implementation has been seen to be entirely tool-focussed, and generally neglects the human aspects of the lean manufacturing approach [1]. Some companies support their workforce with the UK National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in business improvement techniques, to recognise their development from having received training and assessment in quality improvement [2].

Åhlström [8] documented eight principles of Lean production: elimination of waste, zero defects, pull scheduling, multifunctional teams, de-layering, team leaders, vertical information systems and continuous improvement. He studied how to determine the sequence in which management devoted effort and resources to the implementation of these principles, finding that there is a need to implement principles both in parallel and sequentially. It is interesting that only multifunctional teams, de-layering and team leaders directly target changes using the workforce, when all elements require employee involvement. Employee involvement is the aspect on which the various scholars working in this field agree most. Employee involvement goes beyond asking for employee ideas to the delegation of power and authority, allowing employees to pursue their ideas, work with others to solve problems, and improve work systems [18, 19 cited in 20]. As a result, supervisors have to relinquish a certain amount of control and change their roles and management style to become facilitators, co-ordinators and trainers [6]. This is further exemplified by Malone [11], who describes how many companies are ‘flattening’ their organisations, removing middle managers and increasing the ‘span of control’ of the remaining managers so that more and more employees are finding themselves with increasing responsibilities, and more and more managers are trying to act like ‘coaches’ to help their employees solve problems, rather than decision-makers who give orders and monitor compliance. The Lean culture develops teamwork and group problem solving, which should encourage workers to take better ‘ownership’ of the process, adjusting the view of human resources from a resource which naturally tries to resist the supply of work to a resource that naturally wants to work [6].

Muller-Smith [10] highlighted that there are a variety of types of power including principlecentred power, which encourages proactive behaviour and looks to self-control as the way to manage staff, changing the role of the managers. It involves questioning, “What can we do together that will be better than we can do on our own?” because the staff is trusted and believed in, the manager is trustworthy. Although, people are at various stages of development so it takes time and investment to help them to become empowered. Malone [11] commented that ‘empowerment’ of employees became one of the most popular buzzwords of the 1990s and empowerment is linked to downsizing as these two activities have previously occurred simultaneously ([21] cited in [9]). However, when analysing or measuring the impact that Lean has had on empowerment, a definition of the construct is required within this context, as it still remains poorly defined ([22] cited in [9]).

Definitions suggest that empowerment is the motivational concept of self-efficiency [12], while Mondros and Wilson ([23] cited in [12]) argue empowerment is multifaceted and that its essence cannot be captured by a single concept; more broadly explaining it by four cognitions that reflect an individual’s opinion on their work role: meaning, competence (synonymous with Conger and Kanungo’s self-efficiency [24]), self-determination, and impact. Furthermore, empowerment is a continuous variable: people can be viewed as more or less empowered, rather than empowered or not empowered and specific to the work domain [12]. Greasley et al. [9] supports the latter explanation, describing that empowerment is not a permanent, fixed reality that is shared by all, but rather is something that results in variation, how it is experienced from individual to individual and that there is a clear link between empowerment and self-esteem, indicating that this perceived ‘softer’ emotional response can have practical consequences. It is crucial, therefore, that employees are given the opportunity to be heard, without restrictions from management, if the meaning of empowerment is to be fully understood. The Toyota Way Principles recognise the potential empowerment from the implementation of Lean in its sixth principle, which states that standardised tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment [3], which is a different type of interpretation.

With the complexity of defining empowerment noted from various sources, and Lean principles discussed, new case study research was undertaken to examine the impact of Lean on workforce empowerment.

Methodology The approach developed for gathering primary research involved a combination of interviewing selected employees and asking employees to complete a questionnaire developed for this research investigation. The interviews were semi-structured discussions, where the direction of the conversation was determined by points raised in response to the title of the project and introductory questions. The questionnaire content was influenced by the literature review completed for this subject area and the style was developed using example questionnaires from the KEYS to Creativity [25] and Team Climate Inventory [26] documentation.

The developed questionnaire aimed to profile the workforce and measure empowerment. To do this, it was important to gauge the contribution that Lean had on the company and on a personal level for the workforce. The questions were, therefore, based around following what gains had resulted from implementing Lean quality management and improvement systems and strategies, allocated into two categories as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Benefits from Lean quality management and improvement systems and strategies

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