A few weeks ago, I shared about the struggle to move beyond improvement “events” when it comes to lean transformations. Today, I’m sharing another barrier to a successful lean transformation: job roles and daily work are not redesigned for improvement practices.

The following is an excerpt from my book, “Lean HR: Redesigning HR Processes for a Culture of Continuous Improvement” – Second Edition, out this spring, intended to help organizations partner with HR to reach the full potential of a lean transformation.

“Traditional job descriptions and ways of working do not support the level of skill development required to achieve a lean transformation. Companies must fundamentally change the way they work, which includes changing the way every employee works. This involves training employees in new ways to solve problems and then empowering them to do so; teaching employees to see “waste” and providing them with the tools that will help them eliminate it; and encouraging employees to suggest ways to make their work more efficient and then acting on those suggestions.

To change the way employees work means that leaders must change how they lead. This involves important items such as redefining expectations for a more participative work environment, building coaching skills, developing lean methodology skills to coach their work teams to use them, and many others.

Encouraging employee suggestions is an example of the importance of redesigning job roles and work. As a popular first step of companies starting a lean journey, likely because it seems so easy, it often fails.

Frequently, companies struggle to manage the influx of ideas and suggestions, creating bottlenecks. Usually, they can’t implement them quickly enough because there are not enough people sufficiently empowered, much less trained, to implement the changes at all levels of the organization. That is, they didn’t change job roles or daily work in ways that would have made the employee suggestion system succeed.

In addition, for new initiatives to succeed, employees and managers of new work processes must learn new behaviors, which by their nature are not easily changed. People, whether leaders or employees, may require a significant amount of guidance and coaching to create new behaviors.

When attention hasn’t been given to job roles, daily work processes, and behaviors, a new initiative as seemingly easy as an employee suggestion system will break down. This sends conflicting messages. If employees who made suggestions realize their ideas have not been acted upon, they will begin to doubt the organization’s commitment to the initiative. This works against the behavioral changes by reinforcing old or undesired behavior.

For lean initiatives to be successful, job roles, daily work processes, and behaviors must be changed. This need, and the challenges it presents, is a significant reason why the absence of HR in facilitating lean initiatives can be so damaging.”

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