Most businesses are "Soviet" in character?
Great article in the WSJ today about a company in France that sounds like it's doing many “lean” things without invoking Toyota.
The leader of this company says, in part:
Most businesses, in his view, are “Soviet” in character — they rely on centralized control by bosses, whose priority is the reduction of risks to themselves. This in turn means control of “how” things are done and the assertion of authority of managerial nomenklatura through deference and perks. At FAVI, what matters is “why” and “for whom,” not “how.” That is, workers aren't told how to do their jobs, but whom they are doing them for — the customer, not their boss.
I believe what he's saying is that, in keeping with Toyota principles, the role of the “boss” is not to tell people “how” to do things. The people doing value-added work need to define their own standard work and to take responsibility for continuously improving and focusing on the customer.
I'm glad to see someone else making the Soviet comparison, I've thought this for some time, based on experience at multiple companies. I'd say also that many companies rely on propoganda coming down from management (“Everything here is great!”) rather than dealing with reality. I'd also argue many big companies don't want real competition, rather they want protected markets. It's the small companies, for the most part, that are really customer focused, from my experience.
“There is virtually no middle management at FAVI; the company is organized into teams, which each serve one customer — one automaker, for example. Those teams choose their own leader, who reports to Mr. Zobrist. Thus, the organizational chart is only three layers deep.
Instead of obedience, Mr. Zobrist seeks responsibility and initiative from his employees. And to get it, he gives them freedom — to innovate and experiment, but also the freedom to solve customers' problems in their own way. He tells them they work for the customer, and gets out of the way. His only demand, just about, is that they always look for ways to do it “better and cheaper” — and never deliver late.”
It's a great article, it's on news stands today, or get an online WSJ subscription, it's well worth it.