Guest Post: The Role of Middle Management in Toyota or a Lean System
Mark’s note: Today is the first of a series of guest posts that will appear over the next two weeks from a variety of bloggers while I’m on vacation.
Tracey Richardson is a consultant and LEI faculty member who previously had 21 years of experience with Toyota, starting as a Group Leader in 1988.
In today’s blog post, Tracey talks about the important role of a middle manager as a servant leader and a person who develops other people. Her contact info is at the end of the post and her blog is http://thetoyotagal.blogspot.com. Thanks to Tracey for her contribution!
What is the Role of Middle Management within Companies implementing Lean?
This is a common question that has been raised during my training sessions that I thought warranted a brief discussion. Each company has different hierarchy levels they operate with to differentiate responsibilities and job scope. At Toyota, we had various levels ranging from the team member (floor level) to the plant president. Within that range, there are various responsibilities, one of those being the “middle manager.” Many, in that role, have stated it is a very demanding position in that they are the “go between” with the team members and senior managers and the “mouthpiece” for the strategy deployment at the floor level. It’s the middle manager’s duty to not only explain “the what” and “the how” of a job, but most importantly “The WHY”. The WHY ties into purpose, and the purpose is what I consider the “value-added-ness” (a “Tracey” word) of my role when contributing to the company goals (Hoshin or Strategy Deployment).
The middle manager must articulate those strategy deployment goals for the fiscal year down to the floor level ensuring that the daily activities are “value-added” working towards improving the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) i.e. Quality, Safety, Productivity and Cost for the Company. This role requires a constant “finger on the pulse” to understand current situation of his/her processes. This “pulse” can be visualized through scoreboards for each team or group, allowing the manager to determine the gaps been the Ideal and Current situation, which then prompts the need for Problem Solving, or I tend to call it a “thinking process”.
Standardized Work can be utilized to show this much easier than the typical “do what you can” each day to run your production requirements. I often teach the simple “Goals of Standardization” which are essential in assisting the middle management to – Define-Achieve- Maintain-Improve. Defining is the first level of “what should be happening”. This determined by the number of questions the middle manager asks at the GEMBA with his/her floor supervisors daily. (i.e. What is currently happening? Is there a current standard? Are we tracking? What is the variation? What is the process? Why is this happening?) These types of questions allow line supervisors and team members to begin to recognize wastes, by doing this they are contributing to those indicators we discussed before.
I’ve been often told by my Japanese trainers that to be an effective leader over 50% of the middle manager’s role is to develop his/her people, all while aligning it to Hoshin goals of the Senior Management. This type of development will contribute to the ability for the company to continuously improve and remain competitive in the market.
The traditional mindset of most management (all levels) is that the team member “works for them” on a daily basis. Yhe paradigm shift in thinking comes when the mindset becomes -“I work for them”. One of the questions they should be asking each day as a middle manager is “What can I do for you today that will make your job easier?” This can be considered “Servant Leadership”, to me, is a must do while on the Lean Journey. I often close my training sessions by saying to leadership and/or those middle managers – “It’s your responsibility as a leader to STUDY HARDER and develop the thinking at each level of the organization below you”. The mentality of all your workers should be – Problem Solving, Everyday, Everybody!!!
Tracey Richardson – email@example.com
President of Teaching Lean Inc