Bypassing the dinosaurs? - How middle managers become the missing link in lean implementation
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionTotal Quality Management and Business Excellence. 2015, 27 (11-12), 1332-1345. 10.1080/14783363.2015.1075876
Failure or unsatisfactory results from organisational transformations aiming at excellence are often attributed to lack of management support and commitment. Why these issues become problematic has only been superficially explored in the literature, and typically no distinctions are made between different layers of management. This study explores why management support and commitment become problematic in lean transformations in public service organisations. Based on multiple case studies, we argue that lack of support and commitment are most prevalent among middle managers, and that this lack can be explained by the organisations’ choice of transformation process. While top management is the sponsor of lean, the details of the transformations are worked out by external and internal lean experts along with front-line employees. As a result, middle managers are effectively bypassed and never get involved. This approach to lean transformation is not recommended. We suggest that lean transformations would benefit from earlier and more intensive involvement from middle managers.