Lean Manufacturing

Lean Culture in a Temporary Workforce

By Jon Miller Published on March 1st, 2007

Can you have Lean manufacturing without Lean enterprise? Can you have Lean enterprise without a Lean culture? Can you have Lean culture without a motivated shop floor?
All of the trappings of operational excellence such as one piece flow cells, kanban systems, TPM programs, and corporate Lean Six Sigma officers do not make Lean manufacturer a sure thing.
What’s needed is the attention and brain power of hundreds and thousands of people working in these factories each day. As more jobs are off-shored and as subcontract or temporary labor becomes a larger part of the shop floor workforce in low cost countries, will there be any motivation for these workers to embrace and sustain a Lean culture?
These are somewhat rhetorical questions, and some companies are beginning to realize the perils of this race to the bottom of the hourly wage, even seeing that they could be facing a crisis in 5 to 10 years as they are grooming no home-grown talent for management positions.
Some companies are slowly increasing the ratio of full-time workers as compared to subcontracted or “rental” workers in an effort to build a culture based on values, rather than just an hourly wage. But these are only the ones that can think beyond the next quarter.
The trouble is, Wall Street punishes companies severely for such long-term thinking. Then again, the Shanghai stock market just punished Wall Street, so maybe it all works out.

  1. robert thompson

    March 2, 2007 - 1:21 am

    Great post! I think the following sums up culture as applied to Western companies:
    Since Tom Peters wrote In Search of Excellence long ago, the great myth of American manufacturing has been that of culture. Senior managers wax eloquently about it and consultants charge great fees for helping to instill it. It has not worked. It will never work.
    The most basic rule, the reason “continuous improvement” is not a matter of character or national culture or willpower, but is itself a kind of assembly line. “The rule here is that improving something starts after understanding the standard–understanding how we do it now,”. “If you don’t understand what you’re trying to improve, how do you know that your suggestion is an improvement?” http://pages.citebite.com/k1s2j2e0g5lhf
    The answers to these questions set the culture of the company. What senior management said in a speech, or what is written on the wall poster has next to no bearing on the matter. http://pages.citebite.com/v1q2s2u0y7fib

  2. Anonymous

    March 5, 2007 - 5:32 am

    The posting on temporary workers spurred a thought. There are many types of work that involve short term assignments and tasks. They can involve volunteers, temporary workers, or ad hoc teams. I’m thinking about conventions, parades, tournaments, celebrations, construction projects, and so forth. In these type of events – – many of which are handled very well, by the way – – there is often a core group of people who retain the knowledge, and a large group of people who show up and participate for certain segments. Think the Rose Parade, the Master golf tournament, a political campaign or convention, or a building project.
    My point is, that many types of work will not have a long time to build a Lean Culture. Does this mean Lean Principles can’t be applied? Are there techniques and practices that can be extracted from the Lean body of thought and applied in these situations?

  3. Jon Miller

    March 5, 2007 - 8:03 am

    Good question. The post was reflecting on some of our customers who have taken the strategy to have a mostly long-term temporary workforce (if that makes any sense). Typically third party labor companies send people in for less than 12-month “contracts” to do factory labor.
    These workers are de facto full time employees, but not legally so. Building a Lean culture is challenging in these situations, unless the contract labor firm thinks Lean or the employer requires it and invests in proper orientation for the temporary workers.
    You can certainly do it. Many organizations use seasonal labor, and provided you invest the time to orient, education and train these people, they will contribute to a Lean culture. Too many times an employer does not invest any time in this way because a day spent on training may be 10% of a ten-day seasonal hire, for example.
    Lean principles can certainly be applied to the work so that temporary workers can do the work easier, and so that they give suggestions on how to make it easier for the next group.
    In the examples you gave, these are “events” that happen once every year or so, rather than jobs that need improvement every day, so having event-like improvement (rather than persistent daily improvement by everyone) would not be a problem. You can have the core group pick up and implement the suggestions and points that need kaizen.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.