Problem with Lean Implementation


Lean Implementation has a close connection to people involved into the process. Often Leadership and Management are identified as the most critical factors for a successful lean implementation. By their nature these two factors are intended to influence employees in some way, and the level of success of them both is highly dependent on how responsive to certain policies, events and actions employees are (Senge, 1998). Additionally, Forrester (1995, p. 22) points out that lean implementation is relying on people as "only the employees can identify ways of improving the existing process or product."

In the same way, Sawhney and Chason (2005) summarize that the most of the reasons for the failed lean initiative in one or another way are connected with humans. From the point of view of Sawhney and Chason (2005), the main problems connected with the workforce include:

  1. resistance to change, 
  2. lack of necessary job skills, 
  3. low morale, and 
  4. the decision to recruit new employees or retain current work force.

Similar thought is expressed by Bhasin (2012, p. 439) who states that ‘nine of the top ten barriers to [lean] change are quoted as being people-related, including poor communications and employee opposition’. Worley and Doolen (2006) also emphasize employee and management resistance. Employees may be resistant against lean tools or be unable to switch easily to thinking in lean terms. Erwin and Garman (2010) point out that resistance is one of the main obstacles on the way of changes implementation and is the reason for high rate of failed initiatives.

But what is the cause of such difficulties when it comes to employees and how could managers deal with that when they initiate changes and especially those connected with implementing lean? The cases of numerous human centered problems connected with lean implementation should be rooted in the characteristics and particularities of lean as a change initiative. Indeed, Forrester (1995) points out that lean implementation puts enormous demands on employees. The author underlines that this process requires reconsidering of organizational culture in terms of daily relationships within teams and putting emphasis on waste reduction. A successful lean implementation makes the employees alter from a single-loop thinking which focuses on fixing the symptoms of a problem to a double-loop thinking which intends to solve problems from the root cause (Mazur, McCreery & Rothenberg, 2012). All these changes may become stressful for employees (Forrester, 1995; Sawhney and Chason, 2005) and cause cynicism towards change (Wanous, Reichers & Austin, 2000) which means reduced organizational commitment, job satisfaction, trust in the organization and motivation as found in organizational change research by Elias (2009).

While defining cynicism, Wanous et al. (2000) assert that one of the key elements of cynicism is negative beliefs about the likelihood of the initiative’s success, which from a certain point of view could be considered as a sceptical attitude. Wanous et al. (2000) came to the conclusion that cynicism about change initiative should be treated as a learned response and, thus, can be influenced and prevented by managers. But once again, the question ‘How is it possible to do it?’ remains unanswered. As Lines (2005) mentions, generally the success of a change initiative depends not only on the processes used during the implementation, but also on the reactions to change expressed by organizational members. Achanga et al. (2006) mention that quite often the disruptions caused by changes are predetermined by the attitudes of employees who are ready to sabotage the transformation process due to their fears. If to view the nature of interconnection between attitude and commitment, the model which Elias (2009) applies becomes to be of great interest as it proposes that commitment is the consequence of attitudes which are formed earlier under the influence of certain factors.

Following a similar logic, Lines (2005) proposes the idea that attitudes predetermine further reactions and behaviours connected with the change initiative. Depending on the valence and strength of attitudes the resulting actions vary from highly facilitating the change to resisting, sabotaging or on the whole exiting behaviours. Therefore, to ensure the success of a change initiative it is vital to consider psychological processes of employees, especially their attitudes as they are directly influencing employees’ commitment (Elias, 2009), which is very hence, it would facilitate the process of lean implementation.


Strategic management and leadership technical project done by students of Halmstad

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