Great Little Lean Company


Workers contribute to bottom line | Chicago Tribune

This is a great example of how a $2.5M revenue company (Flexible Steel Lacing Co, outside of Chicago) can “do lean right” while huge companies struggle and forget the human element.

Some excerpts from the company side:

Using a team approach headed by coaches instead of foremen, Flexible Steel Lacing has been focusing on “taking cycle time out of all the processes,” Hafey said. The company has seen a 36 percent improvement in customer delivery times over the past four years, he said.

While improved efficiency and productivity sometimes precede layoffs, Flexible Steel Lacing has avoided Chicago-area layoffs by redeploying workers from one position to another and through attrition. “We've never laid off anyone in this office–ever,” Hafey said. “When we started the program, the president told employees `You have employment security but not job security. Your job should change. You should be improving,'” Hafey recalled. The company employs a full-time training manager and most workers go through about 24 hours of training each year.

Promising that lean will not drive layoffs is critically important for lean to be a success, or at least for real lean to be a success. You have to get full involvement from your employees, rather than relying on engineers or experts to solve your problems for you. Leadership needs to be just that — leaders — to get employees on board and to understand how lean is good for THEM, as well as customers and the company. Then, to KEEP employees on board, you can't lay them off — your suggestions and involvement will die off. That's just human nature.

One of Brue's first moves as the company's new owner involved training workers on a quality management tool useful for any type of process, from manufacturing to accounting and service.

As a result, the company's 17 workers do more than they used to, he said. “You empower your workers to make decisions on the line minute by minute,” Brue said. But it requires training so that workers have a better understanding of how each task in the process affects the rest.

It's a big switch from the traditional top-down management approach the company formerly used where workers were expected to do what they were told. “The old-line thinking doesn't work anymore,” Brue said. “The employees have to make decisions second by second, minute by minute. You can't control everything they do.”

That's very well said. Lean isn't ONLY about reducing waste. It's about a new way of managing. That can't be emphasized enough. Don't ever think “what do my people need to do better?” without thinking “what do we need to do better, as management?”

There are some other thoughts and quotes in there from Bob Hall, editor of AME's Target Magazine and noted lean writer.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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