Management Commitment


After having worked with cultural change initiatives for nearly 40 years, there is one rule I can state with certainty.  The level of cultural change attained will be directly proportional to the level of management commitment applied.  With a serious commitment from the top management, success is possible; without this commitment, failure is guaranteed. The conversion to a Lean Manufacturing system is a cultural changing initiative and is no exception to this rule.

But just what is “management commitment”?  How do we evaluate whether or not the management team is committed?  Can we measure it?  And given the results what can we do about it?  These are germane subjects we will now explore.


Before we dive into commitment, let’s first explore the concept of motivation. Today, many people have lost sight of what it means “to be motivated” and are not clear on how to distinguish “motivation” from “wanting something very badly”.  So how do we distinguish those who are motivated from those who simply want something?

As a young supervisor I attended a training seminar on motivation and discipline.  It was outstanding and the demo the instructor used clarified the concept of motivation; so let me relate it here.

We were told the dress was casual so most of the students came with shorts, polo shirts and sneakers; which worked nicely for the opening demonstration.  First thing, the instructor took us outside to a 10 foot high-pipe mounted on a secure base he had brought specifically for the demonstration.  He asked for a volunteer who was motivated to make some money.  A couple of people volunteered and he selected one by having them draw straws.  Attached to the pole was a rope with a pulley at the top, much like a flagpole.  He then attached a $10 bill to the rope and lifted it to the top of the pole.  He then asked the young volunteer to climb to the top of the pole; if he was able he could then remove the $10 bill and it would be his. The volunteer quickly shimmied up the pole, took the $10 bill and put in his pocket. The instructor asked if he’d like to do it again; and he did.  This went on for a few minutes and then after about 5 or 6 times up the pole, capturing a $10 bill on each ascent, the young volunteer needed a minute to rest.  Next the instructor sprayed the pole with a little water, making it a little slippery and difficult to climb.  The volunteer got part way up, lost his grip and slid back down; undeterred, he tried again and got the $10 at the top.  The instructor put more water on the pole and try as he may, the young volunteer could not get to the top, so he quit.  The instructor asked if he would like to try again. He said “no”, at which time the instructor took down the $10 bill and replaced it with a $100 bill.  Instantly, the volunteer was interested and after taking off his shoes to get a better grip on the pole and using his shirt to wipe the pole a bit as he climbed, with significant effort he got to the top and was elated to have the $100.  Then the instructor squirted the pole again, and although the young volunteer did not know it, the liquid was not water, but light machine oil.  And try as he may, he could not climb up to get that $100; the pole was simply too slippery.  After trying to climb the pole a few times, failing and figuring out that the liquid was not water but oil, he simply quit.

The instructor asked him if he still wanted the $100 and his answer was, “Of course, yes.”  So the instructor asked why he had stopped and he replied, “There is no way for me to get to the top, it is simply too difficult.”

At this point we went back into the training room and the instructor said, “Motivation is all about doing something.  No matter how much you think you want something, you are motivated when you are moving – when you are doing.”

He went on, “This young man was motivated to get the $10 bills until it got to be too difficult, not to mention that he had earned a significant amount of money which may have effected his “wanting”, but the minute he stopped trying to climb the pole, he stopped being motivated.  He may have wanted the $10, but he was not motivated enough to do anything about it.  Then we changed the game a bit by enticing him with a $100 reward.  Apparently, the reward to effort ratio was enough to catapult him into action and once again, he became motivated only to lose it all when he said, ‘It is simply too difficult’.  He still wanted the $100, but he was not willing to act on his wanting, so he was no longer motivated to work for the $100.  Wanting something is a powerful concept, but it is only a mental response.  Do not confuse wanting with motivation. Motivation can always be measured by actions; it is a behavioral response.


Not only are there different levels of motivation, there are widely variant theories of motivation driven by vastly different belief systems.  We won’t get into that here, but we will explore two levels of motivation commonly used during any cultural change initiative.  These two levels are involvement and commitment; specifically management involvement and management commitment.

Both involvement and commitment are action-based so both qualify as levels of motivation; to be distinguished from simply “wanting”.  However, for any cultural change to be successful, the management team must go beyond the level known as involvement and consistently exhibit commitment.

These terms have been so used and abused that the distinguishing characteristics have become muddled.  We say such and such manager is committed when he is only involved.  We say, with pride, that “our management is deeply involved in this initiative”, not knowing it is totally inadequate.  We say that we need commitment but really don’t know how to define it nor distinguish it from simple involvement.  So what is the difference?  How do we know?  How can we tell?

In my dictionary, to involve means “to contain or include as a part of” to commit means “to do or perform or perpetrate”.  Here you can see some clues to the difference.  Involvement is associated with being there, there are no serious action requirements; however, if you are committed, you are doing – you are performing.  You are working to attain the goals which define “good performance”.

Take a group of football fans; most are involved, some are committed.  Some simply watch the games on TV.  Yet more stalwart fans buy tickets, spend money on fan merchandise, and maybe even spend both time and money to participate in tailgating activities.  These fans are present, doing things; spending both money and time with their team.  But what happens when the team starts to lose?  The fans, at least many of them, lose their resolve to support the team and leave.  These fans are involved, they are not committed.  If they are committed, they will not only do the things that are fun, they will fight through the rough times; regardless that the team is losing, they will buy the tickets, attend the games, buy the merchandise and participate in the tailgating.  They will do this even expecting the team will lose and maybe lose badly.  In effect, they will spend their time and money knowing full well there is no “winning” to be savored.  There are not many fans of this nature but they are more likely to be classified as committed.  Those who pack up and leave at the first sign of adversity are only involved at the very best.

Herein are the two key differences between being involved and being committed.

Once a crisis develops, it becomes easy to separate those who are committed from those who are just involved.  Those who are involved will shy away from the crisis and sometimes simply quit.  Those who are committed will face the crisis showing action-based courage, action-based character and action-based willingness to undergo short term discomfort to assure long term success.

When a crisis or uncomfortable conflict presents itself, do they persist with the objectives or crater at the first sign of a problem?  Are they willing to evaluate how good the original plan actually was and face the possibility of having created an inferior plan that may need to be corrected?  Or do they immediately scrap the effort and try something else?  When things go wrong, do they look both internally and externally for answers or do they only look externally and always try to find someone else to blame?

The second difference is to see how much sacrifice the management is willing to undergo.  The most common sacrifice is that of management’s most precious commodity, management time. If the management team is not willing to dedicate the time to make the initiative work, they simply are not committed; they are only involved at the very best.

Are they willing to make a sacrifice, especially of their time, so the effort can proceed?  Are they going to the Gemba?  Are they spending time not only on the floor but with the people? Or do they claim to delegate everything and in the end, take responsibility for nothing?

The answers to these two questions will allow you to determine if your management is committed or just involved.


The answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes”.  In my book, “How to Implement Lean Manufacturing”, we have a specific five question test to evaluate the level of management commitment.  In addition, we give you a way to execute this test so you can ask this of your superiors without risking your job.

Let’s review just one of the questions.  The first of the five questions is, “Are you actively studying about and working at making your facility leaner and hence, more flexible, more responsive and more competitive?”  This is a question that can be easily quantified.  If you are committed to making your facility leaner, you will be studying all the time.  Having read Ohno’s book six months ago does not qualify; it has to be an ongoing activity. Managers who are not studying in some way and who are completely inwardly focused simply are not committed. There are four other questions to the evaluation, but space does not allow us to explore all five questions here.

Suffice it to say that the test, coupled with the proper method to execute the test, will allow you to understand the depth and breadth of your management’s commitment and clearly separate that group from those who only “want it in the worst way”.


Many confuse “wanting” with “motivated”.  Wanting is purely a mental exercise while motivation is not only mental, but action-based. To be motivated you must be doing something.  If you are motivated you may be involved or you might be fully committed.  Being committed is not only being there, but is the behavior of fighting through crisis and conflict and staying the course to attain the desired goals.  It is also being willing to make a sacrifice, most often a simple time sacrifice.  This type of behavior (committed actions) is required if your cultural change initiative is to be successful.  There is no substitute for management commitment if you wish to succeed in your cultural change initiative.

Lonnie Wilson is the author of How to Implement Lean Manufacturing(McGraw-Hill, 2009), and the founder of Quality Consultants located in El Paso, Texas, which teaches and applies lean techniques to Fortune 500 firms as well as small entrepreneurs, principally in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Contact him at

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