There is a consensus in the literature on the complementarity between lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0. By drawing on sociotechnical studies, various authors sustain the idea that a lean environment (supported by a culture of continuous improvement, which makes workers not only accept changes but also actively drive changes sustainably and efficiently) is an enabler of Industry 4.0, which in turn provides the technological infrastructure (in terms of greater availability of data, interconnectivity, real-time elaboration, etc.) to potentially enhance the lean/six sigma capability of an organisation. As a consequence, flatter hierarchies, workers’ active engagement and empowerment, as well as managers’ efforts to collect and share workers’ knowledge, are expected to grow.
To deal with this challenge and pursue a 360-degree innovation from a technological, organisational and social viewpoint, workers’ reps cannot be excluded. In fact, they should have a say in and lend their knowledge to the configuration of new work environments. They should have a role, along with
management, in the definition and management of continuous improvement projects, in order to make sure that workers are not simply used but do benefit from the increasing managers’ reliance on their cognitive skills and expertise; in so doing, workers’ reps are expected to enable concrete participation and shared decision-making starting from the operational level.
The Role of a Local Trade Union in the Promotion and Implementation of
Organisational Innovation Projects in Italian Workplaces
Since 2016, a regional structure of FIM-CISL based in Brescia has promoted the development of a number of organisational innovation projects in local companies. To do so, they have relied on the expertise of a few external consultants that though have a long history of collaboration with unions and are regarded as trustworthy. The costs of consultancy have been born by companies, that sometimes have also accessed the resources of bilateral funds. The launch of these projects is usually mentioned within collective agreements, but their implementation is more carefully detailed 14 in actual action plans. These plans are generally articulated in different phases corresponding to the initial analysis of the business environment (e.g., via focus groups and workshops with employees as well as interviews with managers and workers’ representatives): the identification of main intervention areas and critical issues and the establishment of continuous improvement groups (composed of both workers on the shop floor and supervisors); the assessment of the overall project and the possibilities for its continuation. A steering committee is usually built and composed of managers, workers’ representatives, local trade unionists and external consultants; it is in charge of coordinating and monitoring the activities as well as proposing possible changes. Sometimes, training courses targeted to the overall workforce or just to the members of work groups are organised before the start of the project. Through the development of these projects, the Italian trade union wants to play a proactive role in company innovation and ensure that direct employee participation practices, which are increasingly backed by local management, can represent an opportunity for employees’ professionalisation and self-emancipation at work.
A Multi-Stakeholder Programme for Organisational Change in Sweden
In 2005, IF Metall and the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries (Teknikföretagen) contributed to the development of a comprehensive national programme, named Productions Lyftet. The programme is now led by a research institute, in collaboration with 7 universities and other critical industrial players; it is financed by Vinnova (the Sweden’s Innovation Agency), the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) and by participating companies. The programme is aimed at promoting organisational change and renewal in Swedish companies (mainly SMEs), by applying lean production principles. Approximately 240 companies have already taken part in the 18-month change programme; some of them have also participated in the 9-month advanced programme. The programme’s success is partly attributed to its 7 guiding principles (Help with self-help; Long-term approach; Diversity is an asset; Openness and experience exchange; A standard way of working; Learning by doing; Practice that we preach) and its long-term perspective, oriented towards a long-lasting and sustainable development. More recently, the programme has expanded its scope to accompany companies also in their digital transformation. Today, both IF Metall and Teknikföretagen sit on the board of the programme.
Further information at https://www.produktionslyftet.se/.