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A Paradox of Lean: Job Control Rises and Falls at the Same Time

I have an old stack of articles that I peruse from time to time to give me blog idea. One of my best sources is Men’s Health. It is surprising how often the little tidbits of information the magazine offers strike a chord with me.

In this instance, an April 2008 article–more of a paragraph, really—mentioned a University of Texas study that found that people who have control over workplace decisions are healthier than those who are micromanaged.

My first thought was that, if true, micromanagement is a form of assault, albeit a slow one. An action by one person harms another one. Obviously, I don’t really think that DA’s around the country should be sending in SWAT to collar the bad bosses of the world. But I do think leaders should consider that they are physically harming their teams when they choose to be more directive than necessary.

My second thought was about one of the great paradoxes of Lean. It restricts people and sets them free at the same time. Standard Work is binding. Employees have to follow it. Certainly, that is a loss of control.

But Lean also prospers when the frontline employees of the company feel empowered to not only suggest changes, but also make them on their own. It is very liberating to know that there is no reason to settle for a bad process when nobody is going to tell you not to change it if you find a better way.

The challenge many companies face, especially early in their Lean journey, is that frontline employees haven’t yet embraced the culture of improving processes they don’t like, but very quickly bound by their Standard Work.

So, readers, I’d like to ask you a question. What have you found to be an effective way to break through that culture barrier and get frontline employees to grab control of their jobs?


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