Beyond continuous improvement tools, philosophy and corporate culture are the key success factors in a Lean transformation. In this article, I will review the different types of organizations, before focusing more specifically on the Lean model, and the concept of the “inverted pyramid”.
Models with low employee autonomy
Taylorism: This model was created by Taylor around 1880. It is “the scientific organization of work”: the model separates those who think the work (the Methods service) from those who do the work (the operators). The hierarchy is necessary to transmit the instructions and the orders to the operational ones. Without guidelines, the executors remain without initiatives.
Autocracy: This model is the result of an individual behavior (leader who wants to control everything) or an institutionalization of the system. Executors may suggest, but hierarchy approval is required for all topics.
Bureaucracy: The latter model depersonalizes power by transferring it into procedures. The organization is effective as long as a procedure provides the answer to the problem. Its weak point lies in its heaviness and lack of responsiveness. This model is present in many companies. It is particularly relevant in high-risk sectors such as the operation of a nuclear reactor, aeronautics or the pharmaceutical industry.
The pyramid concept
The use of the geometric shape of the triangle is used to describe many models: needs mapping according to Maslow, food categories to consume, risks and gravity according to Heinrich, … Usually, the triangle highlights a voluminous base supporting a narrow top .
In Maslow’s hierarchy, we find the basic physiological needs at the bottom and personal fulfillment at the top. The base of the food pyramid contains water, its top, sweet products. In Heinrich’s model we find a large number of incidents or risks at the base for a fatal accident or a disaster at the top.
In a classic pyramid organizational model, the base is associated with the large number of employees and the lowest number of leaders. The power is located at the top of the pyramid. It is also at the top of the pyramid, with the leaders that lies the authority. This model is described as directive. The summit knows what needs to be done to move the company forward. At the extreme, a few years ago, the base was considered “hands”, employees were almost asked to drop their brains at the entrance to the company and pick it up at night. With this way of managing, replacing hands with robots or hands in a country where labor is cheaper is a choice that can be understood.
Inverting the pyramid
In a Lean organizational model, the mentality is very different. The people who produce, realize and who know are the employees. The management is there to give direction, to outline, to give direction. They are there to support the employees in their daily work. Knowing the direction to take and their work, employees will be able to propose solutions, improvements to make their job sustainable, as well as the organization.
The image of the inverted pyramid highlights employee knowledge. The inverted model seems wobbly, and it is indeed the case: it is more difficult to manage than a directive model. If management does not give clear instructions and does not involve its employees, we are heading straight for anarchy!
To succeed in a lean transformation, we must understand the new attributions of each. Power is given to employees, management and management will support them in their achievements.
The tasks of supervisors and managers also change. In the directive model, they were there to give direction instructions and solve problems in “firefighter” mode. In the participatory model, or lean, they become mentors. They must accompany their employees in their empowerment, guide them to give them a chance to solve their problems themselves, and focus on strategic direction and skills development. It’s very different for them, and they need training and support to move to this new model.
Such a change of organization is not done by snapping one’s fingers. It’s a culture change that takes time and support at every level of the organization.