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We are getting whooped by people who use ‘pull’ management? Why don’t we?

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Management hasn’t changed a lot in the last 100 years.  And what has changed, changed a long time ago – 50 years ago.  If your company hasn’t caught up, this is what you need to know!

‘Push’ management

In the olden days, or in a NZ meat-packing plant for example, the assembly line dictates the pace.  A carcass arrives.  A worker cuts off the relevant part, rinses the knife in water, and repeats.  Each cycle takes less than 30 seconds. The carcasses keep coming.  That is ‘push’ management.

Work is pushed at us. Adverts are pushed at us. As the poet said in The Charge of the Light Brigade – Ours is to do and die.  Ours is not to wonder why.

‘Pull’ management

Toyota perfected “pull” manufacturing ages ago.   There are three terms that you want to know.   (The New Yorker has just written an excellent case study which you may want to bookmark if you are in management education.)

  • The andon allows a worker to stop the assembly line whenever they think it is necessary.
  • The kanban is their signal that they need more parts.
  • And kaizen means continuous improvements which are driven by them.

All-in-all, pull manufacturing moves the engine of improvement from managers to workers.

Why have we been so slow to implement ‘pull’ management?

If ‘pull’ management works so well, why don’t we copy Toyota?

Simply, we because the only way to get the advantage of the system is to do it.  And that means trusting in our workers and their ability to drive quality.

And it that works so well, why don’t we trust our workers in the west?  What is it about our system that we don’t trust the people who work for us?

Or is the truth that we know that they cannot trust us?

Published in Business & Communities


  1. Hi Jo. I think you raise an interesting question about trust. You are right, there is an issue of trust on both sides. And that is not because either management or workers are untrustworthy, it is because we simply do not know what trust is or how to do it. Trust is still seen as a ‘soft’issue, but it is stated by every manager and CEO I’ve spoken to (1000’s around the world) to be the most critical thing they need in business.

    The best example I’ve seen of ‘pull management’ as you describe it was Fantastic Furniture in Australia, who turned a business in administration to a listed company in 3 years, with a staff ‘waiting list’ of people who wanted their family to come and work there.

    You can read the interview with Peter Draper, who was the head of the manufacturing area of Fantastic Furniture, in ‘The truth about trust is business’. Yes, it’s my book, but truly, many people tell me that this case study should be in management courses.

  2. Jo Jordan Jo Jordan

    Very useful, thanks Vanessa! How’s the Entente going?

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