Institutions of higher education have been faced with economic challenges, funding shortfalls, endowment declines, layoffs, academic program cuts, rising tuition, and stiff global competition. These challenges are taking place at a time when students and other higher education constituencies are adding the pressure of consumer choice while expecting more responsive and comprehensive services, integrated use of technology, and managed costs. For some educational institutions, Lean--a total quality management approach--has become a tool for managing these challenges and expectations. Lean proponents also have suggested that incorporating Lean principles and processes results in higher levels of employee empowerment. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of Lean on employee empowerment within a higher education institution. This study was designed to discover higher education employees' attitudes toward Lean, to understand experiences and sources of empowerment, and to identify the relationship between Lean and empowerment so that higher education administration can implement Lean using best principles and practices, while preparing for related demands and outcomes. A mixed method quantitative and qualitative research approach was utilized at a single institution of higher education. An online survey was administered to employees to collect information about the participants' background and Lean experience along with their perceptions of Lean and level of empowerment. One hundred fifteen employees responded to the survey. In addition, 10 one-on-one interviews were conducted to gather perceptions about Lean and empowerment. This study found that employees believe Lean serves a legitimate role in higher education and is beneficial and relevant, encouraging cross-departmental collaboration, shared knowledge, and increased efficiencies. Perceptions of organizational alignment with Lean and personal buy-in and impact of Lean were found to be more strongly enhanced through direct participation in Lean rather than through simply engaging in Lean training. Higher education employees most commonly interpreted empowerment as the authority and responsibility of owning a process or program, as well as the ability to make decisions and implement change. Lean was found to have a positive influence on the impact dimension of empowerment in a higher education setting. This study supports the assertion that Lean enhances employee empowerment by involving employees and giving them direct influence and impact in their work processes and outcomes.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Education, Higher -- United States -- Administration; Employee empowerment; Organizational effectiveness; Research projects (MSOD)

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graziadio Business School



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Lacey, Miriam;