Many years ago I worked in industrial security; I spent many nights patrolling an automotive assembly plant. During this time I would occasionally find flyers written by somebody who called himself the “Sleeping Dog.”

The Sleeping Dog was a frequent critic of Lean manufacturing and often described it as management’s excuse to eliminate jobs. He (or she!) spread flyers around the plant complaining of how Lean was just another way of saying “work force reduction” and “downsizing.” Perhaps management had not successfully communicated the true meaning of Lean? Tahii Ohno himself (the father of the Toyota Production System, which is the basis of Lean) believed that employees were a key element in the implementation of Lean.

Silencing the Dog

There are many ways a company confronted by a sleeping dog could react in this situation. One easy action is to simply ensure the employee’s flyers are promptly found and removed from the workplace so that most employees may not even see them. Management could also attempt to hunt the sleeping dog in order to take disciplinary action. This could both silence the disgruntled employee and serve as a warning to others.

Such actions, however, would do nothing to counter the message in the flyers and may actually make the situation worse. Such a response could give the employees the impression that the Sleeping Dog is correct and lead to an adversarial relationship between employees and management. This would be counterproductive when attempting to implement Lean Six Sigma. The knowledge and skills of the employees are essential to the successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma. Ignoring the situation is not a viable option and neither is simply trying to silence the criticism, so what should management do in such a situation?

Converting the Dog

Another possible reaction would be to discretely remove the flyers, while taking actions to address the disgruntled employee’s concerns. Company leadership should view the situation as an opportunity to educate the workforce on the meaning of Lean Six Sigma, explain that Lean is intended to reduce waste and not the workforce. Lean requires the participation of the employees – not their removal. The Sleeping Dog appeared to fear job loss as a result of Lean; he may not have been the only one with such a concern. As W. Edwards Deming reminds us, it is the responsibility of management to “drive out fear.”

Lean Six Sigma may mean more job security, by eliminating the wastes that can make a company uncompetitive in today’s globalized economy. All those who are faced with Lean Six Sigma for the first time must understand this or a new Sleeping Dog may awake and spread misinformation.

A project facing actively hostile employees has little chance of success. All those who are confronted by Lean Six Sigma for the first time must understand how it affects them or a new Sleeping Dog may awake.

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