Building a high-commitment
Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
Bryant University, Smithﬁeld, Rhode Island, USA
Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK, and
Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Purpose – The characteristics of successful lean operations make a committed workforce a necessity.
However, there is an ongoing debate over whether lean characteristics inherently enhance or impede
commitment. The purpose of this paper is to help settle the debate, as well as provide insights into the
role speciﬁc work practices play.
Design/methodology/approach – Based on responses from 1,391 workers at 21 lean sites, the
authors examined the relationship between the degree of lean implementation and worker commitment;
as well as the commitment effects of 21 lean work practices.
Findings – The paper examines relationships between worker commitment and lean production,
sheds light on the lean commitment debate and provides guidance for designing lean systems that
complement high-commitment work practices.
Practical implications – The results will be of value to readers with interests in operations, human
resources and high-performance work practices, as well as the management and implementation of lean
and its associated practices.
Originality/value – The study described in the paper is unique in that it establishes a statistically
valid relationship between lean production and worker commitment and associated work practices.
Keywords Lean production, Working practices, Commitment
Paper type Research paper
Lean production is based on several key principles: eliminating wasteful activities,
minimizing process variability, pursuing continuous process improvement with
employee involvement, devolvement of activities such as quality inspections and
periodic maintenance to line workers and maintaining synchronized production ﬂow
through shop ﬂoor visual signals. Lean proponents view committed workers as
necessary for such duties (Adler, 1993; Wickens, 1987; Womack et al., 1990; Schonberger,
2007). Waste elimination reduces contingency resources such as standby workers and
inventory. This creates a fragile system, making prompt worker responses essential to
maintain production during disruptions such as part defects or machine malfunctions.
Controlling production ﬂow by visual signals, such as “kanban” cards, is effective only if
workers consistently respond with appropriate actions. To ensure process consistency,
workers must diligently follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) in performing
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Building a lean
Received July 2010
Revised November 2010
Accepted December 2010
Journal of Manufacturing Technology
Vol. 22 No. 5, 2011
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited