What IBM is Doing isn’t Lean At All
Alas, we can’t sue IBM Global Services (not IBM manufacturing) for misappropriation of the word “Lean.” This is yet another example of L.A.M.E., “Lean as Misguidedly Executed.” I don’t think it’s even that really, it’s Lean as Not Even Attempted. That doesn’t make an acronym, I don’t care.
The IBM project I am writing about is called LEAN and the first manifestation of LEAN was this week’s 1,300 layoffs at Global Services, which generated almost no press. Thirteen hundred layoffs from a company with more than 350,000 workers is nothing, so the yawning press reaction is not unexpected. But this week’s “job action,” as they refer to it inside IBM management, was as much as anything a rehearsal for what I understand are another 100,000+ layoffs to follow…
LEAN began last week with a 10-city planning meeting for Global Services, which wasn’t, by the way, to decide who gets the boot: those decisions were apparently made weeks ago, though senior managers have been under orders to keep the news from their affected employees.
LEAN is about offshoring and outsourcing at a rate never seen before at IBM. For two years Big Blue has been ramping up its operations in India and China with what I have been told is the ultimate goal of laying off at least one American worker for every overseas hire. The BIG PLAN is to continue until at least half of Global Services, or about 150,000 workers, have been cut from the U.S. division. Last week’s LEAN meetings were quite specifically to find and identify common and repetitive work now being done that could be automated or moved offshore, and to find work Global Services is doing that it should not be doing at all. This latter part is with the idea that once extraneous work is eliminated, it will be easier to move the rest offshore.
Firing a bunch of people is not the Lean methodology, or the Toyota Production System. It’s Friday afternoon, so I’m not going to get too angry about it now. Stuff like this in the media makes all of our jobs harder. When I implement Lean, I’m not laying anybody off. We’re taking freed up people and creating new opportunities for them and their organization. If people leave or retire, we might not replace them, but that’s different than just blasting an organization with mass layoffs. In *my* world, people don’t lose their jobs because of Lean.
I was at a hospital this week, giving a day long management class about how to manage Lean (this included “NO LAYOFFS”), a message that was emphasized strongly. During lunch, an employee told me about how her husband worked at a local IBM site and how what they called “Lean” was driving layoffs. Of course she would be worried about hearing something called “Lean” coming to her hospital. But after hearing me talk for the morning (and hearing her administrators confirm what I was preaching about no layoffs), she said she felt much better. She wished IBM was doing the same sort of “Lean.”
This is so so so so frustrating. It’s what Jim Womack calls “stupid meanness” in my latest Podcast with him (coming this weekend). Stupid Meanness is when you hurt others (lay off en masse) and it ends up hurting yourself (the company). Womack says “Lean is just a word” and you can’t let it bother you if people do bad things in the name of Lean.
I guess, as the saying goes, Lean doesn’t layoff thousands, lousy managers do.
“…CEO Sam Palmisano on down were losing touch with reality, bidding contracts too low to make a profit then mismanaging them in an attempt to make a profit anyway, often to the detriment of IBM customers”
Total mismanagement. And the workers/employees suffer. Time for the weekend. I’m lucky to not work for such idiots. I know I’m supposed to be practicing “Respect for People” with executives, but I really find it hard at this moment. Idiots. Seems like “Big Blue” is really Big Blowing it.
If you’re new to the Lean Blog or to Lean in general, please check out the “What is Lean?” post.
Update May 6: Again, this is IBM Global Services, not the rest of IBM.
Update May 7: News Story from North Carolina, unfortunately called “Lean Times”
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