Monday, February 5, 2018

The Changing Role of Employees In a Lean Organization


We’ve all heard the saying, it takes a village. In a Lean organization this is absolutely true.  We all have roles in our organizations but it takes teamwork to be successful. Lean takes everyone working together.

Change must happen not to, but with employees. Management has to invest in the employees’ understanding of this new environment, create opportunities for employees to develop and run with ideas, and develop a trusting relationship.

Whether an employee is a material handler, a machine operator, an assembler, or an inspector, the plant experience changes as a result of the lean transformation.

The following abilities are essential for a worker to possess in Lean manufacturing environment:

Willingness to learn new skills. The ability to perform a variety of tasks is key to flexibility, which is critical in the Lean enterprise. Being willing to participate in cross training efforts, where workers learn and teach new skills, is the first step. In addition, accepting different types of responsibilities, which may have previously belonged to supervisors, may be required. Tasks such as machine and equipment troubleshooting and problem solving, data collection and analysis, and production scheduling are typical of the tasks workers may face. As workers learn more skills and accept more responsibilities, they will be less reliant on others and more valuable to the organization.

Offer ideas for improvement. We all recognize that management does not have all the answers and must frequently rely on the workers to find ways to make things better. Instead of just “the usual few” workers offering ideas, this type of effort is required of everyone. Whether it is an idea for eliminating waste in an operation, simplifying scheduling, combining operations to improve throughput time or an entirely different approach to making a part, every worker must recognize the importance of contributing something.

Share responsibility for implementing change. Management can no longer be the sole driver of change, and therefore, workers cannot sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. Once a consensus is achieved to change something, everyone must buy in and strive for success. Passive behavior and the “blame game” must be discouraged. Giving less than the best effort to ensure a successful transition is a missed opportunity that may not present itself again.


Transformation to a Lean workplace requires extensive collaboration from everyone for it to take hold. Adopting these abilities will lead to a successful Lean transition. It takes a village to transform an organization.

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