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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:
resistance to change,
lack of necessary job skills,
low morale, and
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
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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