'Mr. CEO, tear down this wall!'

Mike Wroblewski
Tags: lean manufacturing, talent management, business management

“The Air Conditioners vs. the Non-Air Conditioners.” This is how one employee explained it to me today, from his eyes on the shop floor, the great wall that still exists between management and shop-floor operators. This wall, which can feel as vast as the Great Wall and as high as Mount Everest, remains one of the most difficult and lasting challenges in our quest for productivity.

Salary vs. Hourly.

Management vs. Shop Floor.

Management vs. Union.

The list of labels that designated each side of the wall goes on and on.

From my first days on the management side of the wall in the early 1980s, many of the ways we treated each side differently – easily seen by the perks like reserved parking lots, separate dining facilities, country club memberships, huge bonus and stock options, etc. – have long gone the way of the dinosaur. Well, at least some of them have disappeared. This has certainly been a positive step to bring down the wall, but we still have a long, long way to go.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is not a big problem today. This wall still very much exists and continues to divide us. Just as we must see the waste before we can eliminate it, we must acknowledge this great divide before we can eliminate it.

If I knew the answer to this problem, I probably could go to sleep tonight a very wealthy man. Like many of the problems we face, there are no easy, quick fixes. It will take focus, a willingness to solve the problem, along with plenty of hard work. Building trust and true culture change take time.

As company leaders, do we put the same passion and drive into tearing down this wall as we have for cutting costs?

Altering slightly the words of President Regan in his famous Berlin Wall Speech of June 1987: “If you seek profits, if you seek prosperity for the company and all the stakeholders, if you seek productivity: Come here, to this gate. Mr. CEO, open this gate. Mr. CEO, tear down this wall.”

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a senior operations consultant for Gemba Consulting North America LLC. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. You may contact Mike via e-mail at MWroblewski@gemba.com.