Lean Governor, Anti-Lean Board of Regents

This is an op-ed article that appeared in The Connecticut Mirror, a respected nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that reports on government policies and politics. I wrote it in response to the ongoing contract negotiations between the Connecticut Board of Regents and the AAUP.


Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently wrote the Foreword to a book titled The Lean CEO: Leading the Way to World-Class Excellence. The Governor wrote how Connecticut business leaders adopted Lean Management, properly known as the Toyota Production System, with great success beginning in the 1990s. The governor extolls the virtues of Lean Management in private industry and its new application in government.

Chapter 13 of The Lean CEO features Lean successes in five Connecticut state agencies where significant improvements and cost savings were achieved without laying off any state employees. On March 26, 2013, Governor Malloy expanded Lean throughout Connecticut state government, later called LeanCT, and is one of his signature policy directives.

I happen to know this topic well, having previously led Lean efforts in both industry and in higher education and as the author or co-author of 16 books and some 30 scholarly papers on Lean leadership and Lean management. Therefore, I and would like to compare Governor Malloy’s words on Lean management to the Board of Regents actions, now under the leadership of Mark Ojakian, in relation to the CSU-AAUP labor contract currently under negotiation for the Connecticut State University System. You will see areas of remarkable misalignment between the governor’s LeanCT effort and the Board of Regents.

In The Lean CEO, Governor Malloy said: “As governor of Connecticut, I am also effectively the state’s CEO… When I took office, I directed all executive branch agencies to implement Lean methods to get routine activities functioning smoothly and consistently and to free up staff members’ time so they could focus on higher value-added tasks that are more directly linked to meeting the needs of citizens.”

Unfortunately, the Board of Regents is far behind other agencies’ own Lean efforts, as revealed by the 2014 Office of Policy and Management report: “Continuous Improvement in the State of Connecticut.” Our time as faculty has not been freed up to focus on higher value-added tasks. In fact, the BOR’s contract proposals will increase faculty burdens and have us do even more non-value-added tasks than we do today.

Governor Malloy goes on to say: “…Lean management was founded on a profound respect for people and the understanding that when workers are consulted, they become more engaged, enthusiastic, and innovative… The underlying assumption here is that the deepest understanding of how to improve a process does not come from management but from the workers who go through those processes day in and day out.”

Lean is a human-centered management system designed to enable people to succeed in their work, not to make work more difficult or stressful. Lean must “do no harm;” no harm to any stakeholder. Unfortunately, many leaders in the private and public sectors misunderstand this. The two inviolate principles of Lean Management are “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.” “Continuous Improvement” means daily engagement in improvement activities by people at all levels, agency leader on down. “Respect for People” is deep and has many meanings, including that people will not become unemployed as a result of process improvement.

As Governor Malloy says, “…the deepest understanding of how to improve a process does not come from management but from the workers who go through those processes day in and day out.” Higher education has long had a tradition of listening to its workers. It is called “shared governance.” Faculty and staff perform their academic and administrative processes on campus day in and day out, and are in the best position to improve it – not the Board of Regents in Hartford. Yet, shared governance is an aspect of the CSU-AAUP contract that the BOR seeks to eliminate. They want to make major changes to administrative and academic processes, without worker input, which will lead to unemployment as well as changes in teaching processes that offer no guarantee of near-term cost savings and will likely lead to higher future costs.

Leaders who understand Lean Management do not succumb to herd mentality, flavor of the month cost cutting programs, or the allure of new technologies that offer unproven savings and benefits to students, employers, or the state. Lean Management demands that leaders take a different path to cost savings and improvement, one that requires new learning and diligent daily engagement of core principles and practices.

In Lean Management, when problems occur, such as one faculty member going astray, the remedy is not to impose new, impractical rules on every professor, but to instead determine the root cause of the problem and implement a practical countermeasure to prevent that specific type of problem from recurring. Faculty, staff, and administrators on campus should be responsible performing the root cause analysis and identifying and implementing practical countermeasures, not the Board of Regents.

Further, Governor Malloy said: “Lean, however, comes with a caveat. As with most new ideas there is a tendency to adopt it superficially as another flavor of the month. Even worse, if it is implemented purely as a cost-cutting measure, it will lead to alienation of workers and unsustainable results.”

Indeed, the Board of Regents proposals are superficial and nothing more than zero-sum, win-lose, pure cost-cutting that offer nothing in the way of imaginative or innovative Lean thinking. It is, in fact, anti-Lean thinking. A critically important rule in Lean Management is: Do not sacrifice the long-term for short-term results. However, that is exactly what the BOR is doing with their contract proposals. The BOR’s proposals must be consistent with the spirit and intent of Lean Management. Which is to say, outcomes must be non-zero-sum (win-win); good for all people – faculty, staff, students, payers, employers, Connecticut communities, the State, and so on. Mutual gains, not zero-sum.

And, Malloy said, “By empowering our people [state employees] to improve the processes that define their workplace, we can tap a powerful force that will lead the way to a stronger, more prosperous world.”

It is clear that the BOR does not yet comprehend how to tap a powerful force, faculty and staff, to lead the way to a stronger, more prosperous state. An expert on budgets and labor contract bargaining is no Lean expert. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Everything that ails higher education – high tuition and fees, low enrolled academic programs, inefficient back-office operations, labor costs, and myriad process problems – can be corrected with shared governance and the application of Lean principles and practices to all processes, and without laying off people – just was the case for the Connecticut agencies featured in The Lean CEO.

The Board of Regents are clearly anti-Lean and discriminatory in that higher education must abide by old thinking and old management practices, while other state agencies must engage in new Lean thinking and new Lean Management practices. Governor Malloy should not let this difference continue.

In a CT-N video dated from March 26, 2013, Governor Malloy said: “Lean… throughout state government and across all, now all, of our agencies. Nearly two years ago I said Lean was the beginning of a new way of doing the state’s business…. It is now time… to make Lean part of our culture of continuous improvement in state government.” Indeed. Expectations of students, payers, and employers continue to rise, so cutting cannot be the solution.

This is Mr. Ojakian’s challenge. Is he up to the challenge of making Lean part of the culture of continuous improvement in state government? His idea that the only way forward is concessions and negative cutting – to make things worse for faculty, staff, students, payers, employers, Connecticut communities, etc., – is ancient and flawed. However, the intent of Lean is positive; to continuously improve, grow, achieve mutual gains, and make things better for all stakeholders, Governor Malloy cannot take pride in LeanCT if it does not include all of public higher education in the state, including UConn.

One company featured in many Lean books, including one I wrote in 2003, is The Wiremold Company based in West Hartford, Conn. Their labor union enjoyed a positive relationship with management. Under the leadership of Art Byrne, the former CEO of Wiremold, labor contracts were successfully negotiated each time and the financial and non-financial outcomes were better for the people who actually did the work. Mr. Ojakian can learn much from Art Byrne about Lean Management and how to achieve non-zero-sum outcomes.

Finally, the current BOR contract proposals should be abandoned and replaced with a  BOR proposal that is positive for the people of Connecticut, consistent with the governor’s own words about Lean Management, and in alignment with other agency leaders’ efforts to create a culture of continuous improvement in state government.

Dr. Bob Emiliani is a Professor of Lean Management in the School of Engineering, Science, and Technology at XYZ State University. Prior to becoming a professor, Dr. Emiliani worked for 15 years in industry, most recently as a manager in the aerospace industry in engineering, manufacturing and supply chain management.


Technical Note of Interest: The published version of this op-ed piece said:

“As an expert in Lean efforts in both industry and higher education, I would like to compare…”

This was a change made by the publisher that I did not approve. The use of the word “expert” is incorrect in the context of Lean management because there is no such thing as an “expert.” Why, because when it comes to Lean, you’re never done learning. There are infinite solutions to problems, so nobody can claim to be an “expert.”

The op-ed piece posted here is the correct version and reads:

“I happen to know this topic well, having previously led Lean efforts in both industry and in higher education and as the author or co-author of 16 books and some 30 scholarly papers on Lean leadership and Lean management. Therefore, I and would like to compare…”

I am a humble student of Lean management:

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