Lavoro, giustizia e pace. Su queste tre parole d’ordine, il sindacato dei metalmeccanici americani, Uaw, prova a darsi la carica, dopo essersi praticamente suicidato l’anno scorso cedendo parte dei suoi soldi e dei suoi diritti nei contratti firmati con la General Motors e la Chrysler di Sergio Marchionne. Bob King, il neo presidente Uaw eletto per acclamazione il 16 giugno scorso, sfilerà con gli altri metalmeccanici insieme al reverendo Jesse Jackson il prossimo 28 agosto su Detroit. Qui potete leggere  l’antefatto. Ma per Bob King, la strada è assai in salita.

ps A proposito di lavoro, ricevo da Jim Womack – uno dei massimi studiosi di produzione snella al mondo – questi appunti (in inglese) di grande interesse.  Buona lettura.

My LEI colleague Dave LaHote is fond of saying that
managers – and especially senior managers – overestimate their
effectiveness, particularly as they seek to improve their organizations
through formal initiatives. And they underestimate the impact (often
negative) of their daily personal actions on employees. Recently I
witnessed a striking example while visiting a metal casting plant in a
developing country owned by a multi-national headquartered in a highly
developed country. (I hope you will understand why I’m careful not to
identify places I visit unless I can offer praise. I try to show respect
for my hosts when they allow me to be a guest at their gemba and I truly
want them to do better. Public shame and blame can never be an effective
means to that end.)

The plant was in an inherently dangerous industry
and I was surprised and pleased to see a visual display at the entrance
to the shop floor showing the causes of reportable injuries in the past
month. It was very detailed and up to date. The senior plant managers
accompanying me stated that it truly focused everyone’s mind on safety
and was part of a comprehensive safety-awareness program mandated by
headquarters to reduce injuries.

But then I did some math. The chart
showed that in the last month 12 percent of the plant’s workers had lost
days from work due to injuries! And the chart also indicated that this
was a typical month. Simple arithmetic showed that the average worker
could expect to be injured to the extent of losing time from work once
every 8 months! There seemed to be a yawning gap between the goals of
the safety initiative and the results, and I wondered why as I continued
my walk through the facility.

As it happened, the plant was
experiencing a serious quality issue with its massive engine castings
for heavy-duty vehicles. As a result a senior manager from headquarters
had just arrived. Our paths crossed at the shaking table designed to
knock the remaining sand out of the castings as they tumbled down a
chute from the molding operation. Just as I walked up, the senior
manager was explaining that to solve a problem it was important to trace
it to the source, which might be the shaking table. And suddenly this
very large man mustered surprising strength and agility to swing himself
by an overhead bar up onto the shaking table while it operated, as
massive castings tumbled down the chute and bounded across the table
toward him.

At first I thought this was a crazy risking of this
senior manager’s own life. But then, as I turned to see the looks on the
workers’ faces as they stood watching him, I realized that it was more
likely that he was risking their lives in the future. The official
message of the company’s senior management was that injuries were a top
priority for management, to be reduced through a comprehensive safety
program. But the actions of one senior manager – well intentioned in the
sense that managers certainly should go to the source of problems rather
than talk about them in a conference room — sent an opposite and much
more powerful message: If you want to get ahead around here you need to
dive in and take action without regard to risks. Will this become, I
wondered, a case of homicide by example?

This was a single and
blatant instance, of course, and especially upsetting for me because I
had just driven through the remote shanty town where the front-line
workers lived, with little chance for good wages beyond this one plant.
But as I thought about what I had seen I realized that I see less
salient and dangerous examples all the time in my travels.

example, recently I have seen many instances of managers trying to turn
over a new leaf by deploying hoshin kanri, A3 analysis, and standardized
work (including for line managers) as part of comprehensive lean
programs. And the workforce usually responds very positively. But then
something goes wrong in the operation or the newly minted “lean”
managers just get tired after a long day. And the modern manager that
lurks in us all springs forth to give top-down direction, to prescribe a
solution before there is any agreement on the problem, or to resort to
workarounds without documentation that undercut all efforts to impose
standards. (I could relate more than a few examples from our own
organization involving its leader — me — but will spare myself the
pain. Suffice to say that I am often guilty as charged.)

I sometimes see counter examples as well. A few weeks ago I spent a day
with a CEO I will call Bob as he struggled to stick with his efforts to
manage and improve his company’s core processes by A3. He was going
against an entire work life of giving orders from his office and
managing by results and his A3’s really weren’t very good. He struggled
in particular with getting to the root cause. And I noted that the other
elements of his company’s lean initiative were pretty rough as well,
especially efforts to achieve basic stability in core processes.

I was struck by Bob’s doggedness, even at the end of a long day when
many things had gone wrong and he was tempted to revert to old ways. And
I saw the remarkable effect he was having on his direct reports, who
were getting out of their offices and asking questions they had never
asked before, while struggling with their far-from-perfect A3s. What I
was seeing was the powerful impact of positive personal example in a
situation where the formal elements of the company’s lean initiative did
not yet appear to be sophisticated or effective. I knew that a year or
two from now, Bob’s organization will be far down the path toward a lean
enterprise while the casting plant will still have a glossy safety
program with nothing to show for it.

So I urge everyone, and I
certainly include myself, to do a bit of hansei (critical
self-reflection) at frequent intervals. Ask a simple question: Is the
message that I and the other leaders of my organization are sending
through formal rules, programs, initiatives, and new management tools
like A3, the same as the message we are sending daily through our
personal example? And if not, what can we do to make our walk consistent
with our talk?

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