A few years ago, I was visiting with an HR manager while walking through a production facility. While Jill, the HR manager, didn’t have an extensive lean background, she was eager to learn more. Jill mentioned that during the GEMBA walk that morning, she wasn’t sure about how she could best contribute to the discussions.

I asked her whether she had much experience in identifying the root cause of a problem and she said yes, that it had been part of her prior experiences. As we walked up to the A3 storyboards, I showed her where one of them listed “training” as the countermeasure on the implementation plan. I asked her if it seemed like they had uncovered the real root cause of the quality concerns noted in the A3.

Her response was, “Of course not. Any time they point to training as the issue it often means they don’t know what’s causing the problem and it’s often not even related to training.”

Jill noted that even if the best solution was related to training, it was obvious that they would likely not complete it effectively based upon the overly simplified implementation plan.

As our tour went on, I showed her various telltale signs that the application of improvement skills wasn’t evident in the work we were reviewing. She was most surprised to learn that even without developing an extensive lean background, her HR background allowed her to have an educated opinion about whether employees were learning improvement methods well enough to apply them.

This is just one example of how HR managers may not realize that they can contribute to the learning process of lean. Following are 6 examples of ways HR can significantly contribute to the success of your lean transformation.

6 Ways HR Can Be a DRIVER

1. Define lean skills. HR work often includes having an understanding of the skills required of a job, including how to select, develop and review the skills over time. As improvement skills are introduced to the workplace, HR can help define what successful skill building should look like in detailed terms.

2. Review problem solving effectiveness. Teaching HR professionals effective problem solving methods is easily achievable and may add value to the larger effort. Because these folks often have a fresh set of eyes, they can at least question if problem solving efforts don’t seem to reflect either adequate time and/or attention to ensure the problem does not repeat itself.

3. Improve communication. The need to communicate in a lean transformation is extremely critical and yet communication is often one of the more underdone areas of work.

HR professionals are generally adept at evaluating whether all employees have understood key messages and have received the same message. As such, HR can apply themselves to understanding the key messages that need to be delivered and assist in developing and/or delivering those messages until they are assured the majority have received the message. This may often entail simplifying language and concepts along with repetitive forms of communication.

4. Value adds from the customer viewpoint. One of the more interesting ways I’ve supported a lean transformation in an HR role was to help arrange for employees to become more educated about our customers.

At the time, our largest customers included one of the largest fast food chains and one of the largest grocery retailers. The names of these customers were known to our employees but they knew little else about them. I arranged to have speakers from these companies speak during one of our town halls about what was important to them about how our products were supplied.

Employees were more energized from this exercise than any of the other town halls we had had in the past.

Afterward, I noticed they would speak with some authority when making appropriate decisions as if they were operating under the authority of the customer to do the right thing.

5. Ensure resources and focus are sufficient for successful lean transformations. Oftentimes lean transformations require a shift in how resources are applied. Every transformation I’ve ever supported has had unique resource questions. But they have all been significant.

For example, if employees are now expected to do more problem solving, what resources are required to support that effort and change? If additional training is required to build improvement skills, are there sufficient resources identified to carry this out? Have you included the necessary follow-up coaching and mentoring to build the skills from the training? How can your HR team ask questions and identify options to help support these efforts?

6. Regular recognition and celebrations drive more success. HR often has a role in creating or arranging various forms of recognition and/or celebrations. As your HR team becomes more clear on what constitutes successful improvement milestones, they can assist with organizing a wide range of options to acknowledge success.

If you’re interested in learning about more ways HR can get involved in driving a successful lean transformation, contact me here.

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