mathematics-757668_1280Bob Dunning, a friend, collaborator on a paper discussing the application of Lean principles to transit planning, and Boeing alumnus, commented on my recent review of Lead With Respect. Bob brought up Theory X and Theory Y (Douglas McGregor) management approaches because the difference between those were discussed at Boeing. Theory X being the autocratic top-down approach and Theory Y being that people in an enterprise are largely responsible and mature and need to be treated as such.

Add to X and Y Theory Z, of which there are reportedly at least three. William Ouchi’s Theory Z, based on W. Edwards Deming’s “14 points” seeks to promote stable employment, high productivity, and high employee morale and satisfaction by providing life-long employment and the promoting the employee’s long-term well-being. Theories Y and Z have been considered to be aligned with Peter Drucker’s position that companies see people as assets and not costs.

Part of the challenge is that Theories X, Y and Z are based on the assumed separation between leaders and followers, with leadership determined by rank. Leadership does not go away in a Lean enterprise, and if anything is more demanding than in the Bulk enterprise.

As Bob pointed out in his comment, even well intended perspectives on the relationship between employer and employee such as the company is “a team, not a family” can be discouraging, and maybe leaders need to learn when to keep their mouth shut when discussing how they relate to the rest of the enterprise.

What are the right words to describe the people in an enterprise, especially a Lean enterprise? If not “family” or “team” or even “asset” does the term “partners” work? Families have parental hierarchies, teams are owned, and assets are recorded on balance sheets. There may be junior and senior partners in an enterprise, but the nature of partnerships is that the work, ownership and rewards of the enterprise are shared in some way. Lean is much more than squeezing out the waste and making things work more efficiently. It gets at the core of who we are and how we better work together. We all have much work to do to figure that out.