A potential crisis has hit the American populace. No, not the election. It looks like this could be the end of the Twinkie. Arrrggghhh!

It seems that there is labor strife at the Hostess Co. and rather than the two sides coming together to save the bankrupt company, they’ll just shutter the plant and walk away. Everybody–labor, management, administrative–loses their job.

There are two types of people. Some people have a worldview and try to fit new pieces of information into their view. Other people bring in new pieces of information and look for patterns in order to confirm or adjust a worldview.

If you are a “conservative” (whatever that really means), you will no doubt say as one of my friends did on Twitter, “It’s all the fault of greedy unions.”

If you are a “liberal” (whatever that really means), you’ll react with, “It’s all the fault of greedy management.”

Me, I look for patterns.

In a sense, they are both right. (I love setting up false dichotomies and then answering “yes” or “no”.)

A management that exhibits true leadership, earns trust and focuses on the customer will limit its labor problems. Workers need to understand that companies that don’t add value and make a profit will not be able to continue to pay them. God knows, I’ve experienced that first hand more than once.

Sounds like neither side was really focused on the customer (all those hungry little kids–or their parents looking for a quick and easy breakfast). Neither was focused on one of the primary attributes of Lean thinking–adding value. Or another Lean attribute–people are valuable.

What I learned early in my career where I did a lot of manufacturing cost analysis leads me to conclude that any management that says the only competitive problem they have is labor cost is either clueless or really gave away the treasure chest. Labor cost is typically only a small percentage of overall cost of manufacture. And we in automation are constantly coming up with ways to continue to improve labor productivity.

As an early disciple of Deming, I always look early on at the process. The manufacturing process. The business process. Shaving a penny here or there doesn’t usually save a company. Rationalizing and understanding the processes will lead to adding value, reducing waste–maybe even saving the Twinkie.

On the other hand, when I read this story originally in The New York Times and mentioned it at the Java Haus in Sidney, one guy said, “You know, Twinkies aren’t as good as they used to be, anyway.” Either his taste buds matured over the years or the company followed the age-old recipe for decline–cheapen the product to squeeze out a little more margin. And, either reason could spell the end for Hostess anyway.

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