Sometimes the most intriguing insights about lean come not from general statements, but from anecdotes. A recent article in The New York Times Sunday magazine falls into that category.
The article profiles the devastating effect the collapse of GM is having on middle-class blacks in
Mark Graban wrote about the article in the Lean Blog, highlighting a few passages he thought had lean relevance. I agree with his comments, and I’d like to mention some additional sections.
The article, written by Jonathan Mahler, focuses on Marvin Powell, who started working at a GM plant in
I am fascinated by the description of the plant at the time Powell started.
It was stressful at first. The line moved faster than he anticipated, and as a new hire who could be let go without cause during his first 90 days, he didn’t want to be the one to slow it down.
Contrast that with a well-run lean plant (
But even more fascinating is this description of what I will call the plant’s extra-curricular activities:
Adjusting to the culture of the factory was a challenge, too. A practicing Christian, Powell was taken aback by what he saw taking place around him. The plant was a world of temptations unto itself, with drugs, alcohol, numbers runners, bookies and even “parking-lot girls” who would come to the plant during lunch breaks to service male workers. “Anything you can find outside the plant, you can find inside the plant,” Powell says. “You either get caught up in it, or stay apart from it.”
Even in a well-run plant, I’m sure, auto employees work hard. And everyone likes to blow off some steam. But this description goes beyond that.
Now I’ve never worked in an auto plant. I don’t know whether this kind of situation was unique to that one plant (which I doubt) or whether similar situations exist in
The Big Three rarely showed their workers the kind of respect for people that is a fundamental lean principle. They tended to treat workers as drones, expecting them to get the job done, with management not seeking (and even discouraging) ideas or feedback from workers. In such an environment, workers can feel unappreciated and discouraged, which can increase desire for, shall we say, diversions.
Of course, that’s largely speculation on my part. Do any of you have experience with this kind of working environment? What do you believe were the causes?