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HR Strategies for Successful and Sustainable Lean Transformations

by Cheryl Jekiel
March 21, 2018

HR Strategies for Successful and Sustainable Lean Transformations

by Cheryl Jekiel
March 21, 2018 | Comments (2)

Can you give an example of one engagement practice that encourages employee involvement with lean management?

One engagement practice is involving employees in understanding the bigger picture and their role in creating organizational success. Similarly, lean efforts include the same type of activity often referred to as “strategic deployment.” Fundamentally, strategic deployment refers to taking the highest-level goals and cascading them through the teams so that each individual understands their link to the larger vision. These practices are well-known to have a significant impact on organizational accomplishments, as well as adding to an individual’s satisfaction with their work.

Consider that senior management establishes key goals for the year and that all employees could understand their roles in ways that ensure that their efforts are in alignment. For example, one of the primary goals could be to improve product quality metrics by 5% by year-end. Various employee groups or teams would have an appropriately aligned goal that would allow an individual’s role to contribute to the desired improvement. Appropriate metrics would be visually displayed along with regular updates. In this way, everyone is actively involved in achieving the larger goal.

Anyone can write “Make employees feel more valued” in their True North statement. But that’s not even close to engagement. What does this look like in practice as an ENGAGEMENT strategy?

One way to best understand how lean activities create engagement is in looking at ways that employees feel undervalued. Whenever individuals feel their roles and work do not fully utilize their skills and abilities, they feel less valued. In a lean enterprise, people find themselves contributing to solving problems or participating in interdepartmental teams. With an increased sense of contributing beyond their individual roles, employees experience that they have a greater impact and naturally feel more valued. Individuals also internalize the benefits and consequently, their quality of life is positively impacted as well.

I have a unique viewpoint of this topic having over 25 years of experience in HR that included engagement efforts, and at least the same amount of time with lean implementations. I think that’s why it became obvious to me that these areas of work have much in common and are typically not leveraged together. 

What are other lean practices that tie to engagement? 

Lean practices such as idea generation boards, gemba walks, and team process mapping, all create opportunities for engagement. Both of these areas of work have found that a critical piece of the puzzle also lies in the way leaders inspire their teams. Instead of using the method of command and control, employee engagement and lean leadership models focus on the ability to coach, build confidence, and empower team members to new levels of achievement and capability. 

The greatest barrier to engagement is poor leadership. Conversely, the greatest asset for engagement is through a positive and inspiring leadership model.

 How can they be used together?

 Often, engagement work is handled through an HR department using a survey process with follow-up activities. Unfortunately, many of these efforts can fail to achieve measurable success due to a struggle to focus attention adequately or bringing little to no change in behavior. Departments commonly grapple to use engagement activities in a sufficiently comprehensive way so that employees experience significant adjustments in their work.

On the other hand, lean is often overseen initially by Operations and is often linked to effective action planning and organized activities specific to them. Successful engagement increases when consideration is given to aligning the information from engagement survey results or comments with optimizing aspects of the lean strategies.

In many instances, the change in lean strategies involves more attention to the leadership skills that lead to empowering employees and increased involvement. Thus, helping make sure the benefits of lean engagement are being spread out to a greater number of employees.

Where would you advise somebody to start using this strategy? Any specific place/setting/activity that you recommend?

If an organization has not begun to understand the level of engagement of their workforce, I would suggest they begin with a survey process. However, I suggest they do not start until they have a full plan for addressing the results. If they are already measuring engagement, I recommend they combine the engagement strategies with the lean strategies to see where they overlap as potential leverage points. Meaning, that the action plans for one would be in alignment with the action plans for the other. Combining resources and focus would improve the results.

What are you most looking forward to sharing at the 2018 Lean Transformation Summit?

I’m looking forward to sharing the research that demonstrates higher levels of engagement are linked to stronger financial performance in most key performance areas, such as profitability, shareholder value, productivity, quality, safety, retention, attendance, and many others. The research creates a foundation to understand why optimizing lean and engagement efforts clearly presents a financial benefit for lean that most individuals and organizations are not aware of.


The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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Mark Graban March 21, 2018
2 People AGREE with this comment

An organization's HR policies can sometimes fly in the face of a Lean culture.

Case in point, a hospital system has policies that require that employee must be disciplined if they are mentioned in two or more safety risk reports.

Blaming and punishing people for reporting risks or being involved in a systemic problem is certainly not the path to a Lean culture or a culture of safety.

So, I certainly agree that HR must be at the table in discussions about a Lean culture and they will hopefully be willing to change unhelpful policies. 

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Ellen November 19, 2018

Mark do you know of companies where HR has fully engaged in lean? If so would they be willling to share their learnings?

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