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Reasons Why Lean Manufacturing Culture Must Begin With Top Leaders

Every Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) has heard of lean manufacturing – it’s talked about at trade shows, industry blogs and in nearly every book on manufacturing ever published. You also know why it’s essential that your outsourced contract manufacturer employ lean manufacturing services.

While you’ve likely implemented a few lean practices at your facility – and required your contract manufacturer to as well – in order to reap the long-term returns of lean, you need to develop a lean culture among your employees, not just lean programs.

So what’s the best way to start developing a lean culture throughout your company? Start with yourself.

Here are four reasons why creating a lean culture must begin with top leaders like you:

Reason #1: Authenticity
Before your lean manufacturing culture has any impact on your rank-and-file employees, upper management must genuinely embrace its principles and practices. Your employees look to you as a model of the company, so you need to walk the walk of lean culture – and not just talk the talk.

If your leadership team doesn’t adopt your new lean policies wholeheartedly, you might fuel resentment among lower ranking employees. This negative, resentful atmosphere might cause your other lean initiatives to backfire considerably.

Reason #2: Diplomacy
An essential part of establishing a lean manufacturing culture is employee empowerment and granting employees greater decision-making responsibilities. However, this new level of empowerment leaves many middle managers feeling threatened as their subordinates are given more power and flexibility.

To quell these fears from middle management, it’s essential that your upper management team support a lean culture: Otherwise, middle managers have little incentive for giving up their current power. When top leaders embrace lean manufacturing first, it helps guide the diplomatic conversations that end with eventual employee empowerment – and not middle manager resentment.

Reason #3: Vision
In the same way that middle managers have less incentive to implement a lean manufacturing culture, they also lack the long-term perspective required to make it happen. Only your top leadership team fully understands the future goals and vision of your company at the level required to build a lean culture, so the new culture must begin with them.

With those long-term goals in mind, your top leaders should be in charge of communicating new lean training initiatives and policies to both middle managers and employees. Working together, your upper management should link the new lean culture to employee expectations in areas such as job descriptions, bonuses/awards, the code of conduct and new employee recruiting.

Reason #4: Assurance
Whenever the term “lean manufacturing process” is introduced on a factory floor, employees often fear that the new approach will lead to layoffs. While the assurance of middle managers may help, only direct communication from your top leaders truly puts employee fears to rest.

Upper management, who created the lean manufacturing culture to begin with, must assure employees that a lean culture doesn’t mean cutting jobs: It means cutting costs, cutting inefficiencies and cutting waste. When you invite employees to join you in cutting out these factors that muddle your profitability – and when they know their jobs are safe – they embrace the new lean culture more quickly.

Creating a lean manufacturing culture is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one, so you need to begin that slow evolution in the proper place: your own workflow and leadership team. Then, as you continue to implement new lean initiatives and culture changes, employees aren’t confused as to what they’re supposed to do – they simply follow your example.