Tag Archive | Respect for people

Myth: Middle managers hate Lean


This is one of the most popular myths about Lean. Middle managers are dangerous people who stop any improvement initiative and lack strategic vision about operational excellence. They must be kept away from any Lean work at all costs or they will blur and corrupt Lean ideas and concepts and will destroy people’s morale… Is this true? Of course not. However, middle managers are special people who need special care when applying Lean. Let’s learn why.

According to Wikipedia, middle managers are:

Intermediate management of a hierarchical organization that is subordinate to the executive management and responsible for at least two lower levels of junior staff.[1] Unlike the line management, middle management is considered to be a senior (or semi-executive) management position.[2] Middle managers’ main duty is to implement company strategy in the most efficient way. Their duties include creating effective working environment, administrating the work process, making sure it is compliant with organization’s requirements, leading people and reporting to the highest level of management.

Let’s see what makes middle managers so special:

  • They are the highest management position in the organization with tactical (“get things done”) responsibility.
  • They are the lowest management position in the organization with strategic (“shape the future”) responsibility.
  • They have the highest “authority vs. accountability” gap in the organization.


What happens when Lean comes to a new company? Remember that Lean initiatives start normally at the shop floor, which means:

  • Operators, technicians and line management adopt Lean management ideas: they are encouraged to control their work, test ideas and remove functional barriers. They are empowered to become process owners.
  • Middle managers definition of success changes from “telling people what to do” to “remove problems and develop people”.
  • Executive managers still work and think according to classic management ideas.

During this process, middle managers might feel:

  • They are losing power.
  • Their job is not necessary anymore.
  • The definition of job success is unclear and inconsistent across the organization.
  • Their bosses don’t know what Lean is like and still request traditional “command and control” behaviours.

As a consequence, we create a middle manager sandwich:


When the environment at a Lean transition is like this for a middle manager, he/she can perfectly react with anger / fear / frustration and move back to classic management and sabotage, either actively (canceling changes, taking control) or passively (removing support) the Lean work.

What to do?

  • Be aware of the middle manager’s special condition and look for symptoms of frustration (learn more here).
  • Make sure middle managers are part of the Lean transition, feel recognized and participate in those important decisions that affect their work.
  • Help executive managers support and empower their people, avoiding wrong behaviours like “command and control” or “abdication” (learn more here and here)
  • Communicate continuously Lean concepts and ideas. They are not evident at all and can be easily misunderstood (learn more here)


“I hate you” logo from http://listsurge.com/top-10-ways-to-make-someone-hate-you/


Engagement: Metrics

I wrote some weeks ago a summary of a conference about engagement (find the post here). This graph summarizes the most important reasons that keep your people engaged. Remember, managers cannot make people happy, but they have a big influence in creating the right environment. Enjoy!


How to make your people think


This is a question I’m asked frequently: “Is is ok to let everybody propose anything during a problem solving session?” Mmm, absolutely! After some seconds, I typically get this other question: “But, isn’t it better to select the best ideas and concentrate only in those?”. Mmm, absolutely, again!

How is that? Because our brain thinks and develops ideas in a very special way. This is how it works:


Our brain benefits from this 2-phase process:

  • Start promoting creative and divergent thinking. Everything is valid. No idea is forbidden (just for the records, this phase does not have to be a brainstorming session necessarily, there are multiple other ways of doing this and brainstorming might not be the best one). The intent here is to break the psychological or cognitive inertia: our brain feels comfortable and likes following common patterns and solutions that have worked in the past.
  • Finish promoting practical and convergent thinking. Keep your feet on the ground. Calculate needed resources and evaluate possible barriers. The purpose here is to concentrate in those ideas that have the best effort/benefit ratio.

Like almost anything in life, a problem solving session is half technique and half art. A winning strategy in most cases is to use questions to facilitate the meeting (very similar to the coaching style). In all cases be sure that you follow the basic 3 rules of facilitation:

  • Be challenging
  • Be clear
  • Be honest