The intensity of the response to my recent article about how HR has lost the trust of employees was nothing short of shocking.

We received over 600 comments, of which many were long letters – so this topic certainly struck a nerve.

Several of the posts were from people who had been deeply disappointed in how HR had treated them. Why so disappointed? They had expected to have their interests protected and trusted HR to be their advocate.

Instead, their experience seemed to reflect HR as a function devoted to protecting the organization.

After considering all the responses and my own decades of experience, it became clear that it’s a big mistake if we fail to position the people function as a win-win versus competing interests.

Inherently, HR needs to be good for our people and hence good for our organizations. Protecting individual interests is not opposed to the needs of the organization. Instead, it’s inherently connected and mutually beneficial.

This leads to the question of how we can best go about addressing this challenge.

HR’s Connection to People Value Streams

One way to consider the evolution of HR is based on the concept of People Value Streams, which was introduced to me a few years back by Peter Hines, another Shingo faculty fellow.

Like production-related value streams, the goal is to optimize flow in terms of how people function best. Interestingly, my initial impression was that People Value Streams would reflect key employment-related processes – which are often the basis for HR efforts.

Instead, it’s an in-depth look at how we can enhance the way people flourish in the workplace encompassing a variety of aspects of what drives human health and well-being.

Opportunities to revolutionize the way HR adds value

People Value Streams also highlight the opportunity and benefit of enhancing experiences that motivate individuals in the workplace. The good news is many continuous improvement activities can dramatically increase people’s level of engagement or a deeper sense of connection with their work.

For example, team-based problem-solving helps people be more independent in finding their own solutions, learn new skills along the way, and spend enjoyable time with teammates. In fact, what drew my intention to the field of continuous improvement in the first place was witnessing how people light up when they get involved with making improvements.

We can use a range of well-established concepts from human-related sciences to gain insights into understanding how workplaces can function best for various types of individuals. For example, in the last few years, employers have been seeking to optimize their value proposition to attract and retain talent and this is reflected in a recent resurgence of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as an HR topic of interest.

Maslow is just one example of how to identify opportunities for improvement, such as how we tend to people’s basic needs, like safety and inclusion, compared to their growth needs to learn and achieve.

Also in recent years, many HR groups are shifting their focus to improving the employee experience. For example, I wrote an article earlier this year on a technique used by Mai Lee from McKee Foods. She developed an innovative approach to gathering insights into how people feel during their recruitment and onboarding experience using focus groups where they selected images to fully express how they felt at key points.

As new hires shared both their positive and negative experiences, the various leadership groups, including HR, identified valuable opportunities to improve.

Shifting to People Value Streams has the potential to revolutionize the way HR adds value in how they care for people, which in turn improves organizational results.   Beyond how we can improve HR’s care for people in the workplace, let’s consider their critical role in successful Shingo cultures.

The Critical Role of HR

My greatest passion in life has been to promote HR in terms of strategic value, especially in organizations committed to continuous improvement through the involvement of their people.

The following are three elements that need to be addressed in cycles of improvement year by year. None of these elements is simple or easy to complete, and they work together to create alignment, critical skills, and the right culture.

  1. Redesign talent systems to support continuous improvement capabilities and cultures.
    Most HR talent systems were created at different times by different people, making them hard to update once, much less regularly. Yet, the development of improvement-related systems, behaviors, and cultures takes years – creating the need for regular updates to reflect phases of transformation. As we know, when the systems don’t align, it’s difficult to achieve the results you want.
  2. Develop leaders who can coach, empower, and/or engage their teams.
    Over the years, I’ve met many organizations that want to develop inspiring leadership approaches but haven’t succeeded. What’s needed is a long-term methodology and development of a leadership community that creates connections for leaders to feel less alone and prepared to keep building their skills over time. HR often resets the approach to leadership development and needs to ensure the new approaches are delivering the leaders necessary for operational excellence.
  3. Build the capabilities and an engaging culture for the whole team.
    As the systems and leadership behaviors are on track, the next focus becomes creating the time and resources to build the skills of the entire work team. HR can assist in many ways, including collaborating on training resources and approaches, providing change management strategies, and other necessary cultural practices.

These elements reflect the strategic demand for HR to drive the best results for internal customers which will surely transfer to creating value for external customers.

The Big Win


Taking these ideas to improve HR is only a small aspect of why organizations would want to pursue them. The much bigger purpose is to increase the level of success with sustainable improvements and, more importantly, drive a highly engaged workforce. Upgrading the role of HR in optimizing how we care for people, including how they are integrated into continuous improvement, can only add to the chances of success.

Introducing the Shingo HR Action Learning Community

One way to create a brighter future for HR is to increase the strength of networking within the Shingo community. Organizations have been asking for a way to connect the people function with the best practices of other groups. In response, we are launching the Shingo HR Action Learning Community for organizations to create a place for people to consider how they can best support continuous improvement.

As we look forward, we need to structure and support HR to create the workplace culture of our dreams, and the results will surely follow.


Share This