Lessons from LERC

Posted on 6 Jul 2010 by The Manufacturer

The Lean Enterprise Research Centre’s annual conference never fails to provoke, challenge and inspire delegates with thought leadership and research insight – this year was no exception as TM reporter and editor of the Lean Management Journal, Jane Gray, discovered.

For a conference aimed at a delegation of managers the uncomfortable but important recurring theme at this year’s LERC conference focused on debunking misconceptions about the role of management and altering the perception of managers themselves about what their jobs entail and what value they add to organisational work.

Headlining the morning of the event was the renowned American author Mike Rother who dug deep into behaviour patterns within businesses in an attempt to show how training, practice and trust could give every employee the capability to move their organisation towards its strategic objectives.

Exploring human tendencies to leap straight for solutions before understanding problems and the science behind our instinctive desire to seek predictability Rother showed that innovation and ingenuity in adapting to changing environments are not elite talents but skills to be mastered.

Turning to a Japanese concept the a manager should act as a teacher Rother challenged any delegate to claim that they were not. “Managers are always teaching through their actions, whether they want it or not, whether they are conscious of it or not.” Perhaps unsurprisingly this statement lead to a consideration of ‘whether they are good at it or not’. As one delegate highlighted, in manufacturing managers frequently arrive in their roles due to promotions based on their technical skills and knowledge not their ability to manage or teach nor their facility with people.
For Rother the answer is radical top down change in the way senior employees perceive their work and this suggestion was echoed in an exceptional afternoon presentation from the BBCs Business Doctor, Dr Paul Thomas of Glamorgan University
Calling for a controversial democratisation of job roles Thomas said “We’ve made it so if people want to get promoted and earn more money, they have to become managers. But most managers I meet hate people. They hate dealing with those softer issues.” Deliberately provoking his audience he continued “we ought to pay managers less than frontline staff. That way at least we’d know that the people who wanted the management roles were those people who really love to work with people, to lead and to engage.”

The way in which a true lean implementation will change the nature of management work has been identified for some time in the lean community and organisational improvement experts like John Seddon have long been calling for a revolution in management concepts. The increasing airtime given to the subject at industry conferences and in practitioner publications would seem to show that the subject is now gaining real traction and understanding from a fresh generation of lean management.

Other topics covered at the lean conference included a fascinating revival of TWI (training within industry) as a methodology for improvement as well as case study insight into entrepreneurial public transport initiatives from GoJaspa and the use of lean cell design by Siemens.

DVD footage of the event is available for purchase. Contact Claire Gardner on 0292 064 7028 for more details or visit the LERC website