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Does LEAN Stand For Less Employees Are Needed - GoLeanSixSigma.com

One of the biggest myths about Lean is that organizations use it to get rid of employees. This is not true! Here’s why…

Lean is not about getting rid of people, it’s about getting rid of waste. People are an organization’s most valuable asset! Employees are not a waste, but often their time is spent on wasteful activities. Lean focuses on getting rid of those wasteful activities; those steps that not only waste time but don’t add any customer value either.

Employees are not a waste, but often their time is spent on wasteful activities.

How many of us believe that some of the steps in our current processes are laborious, complex or unnecessary? How often do we find ourselves asking “Is this step really necessary?” or “Isn’t there a better way?”

A Great Example of Lean In Healthcare

A great example of removing waste is in the healthcare industry. Nurses can walk up to 8 miles a day on their jobs. Healthcare has made significant strides in reducing the amount of movement required of nurses, and “Motion” is one of the 8 Wastes of Lean.

Several medical facilities have participated in studies to identify where and how excess motion takes place, with the goal of minimizing or eliminating it. The idea is that if they can relieve nurses from searching for supplies, equipment or approvals, then they can spend more time in a value-adding capacity: caring for patients.

That is the primary focus of Lean; to get rid of the waste!

How often do people in your organization feel like they’re wasting valuable time sorting, moving, or approving things unnecessarily? Do they ever complete unnecessary forms, gather superfluous information or enter data multiple times into different systems? There is a lot of waste in our processes. That is the primary focus of Lean; to get rid of the waste!

Just as it has for nurses, efforts to reduce the waste in organizations allows employees to spend more time on the things that deliver value to the customer.

Be Weary of Headcount Reductions

Now that we’ve clarified the true purpose of Lean, there is another reason why Lean never works as a headcount reduction strategy: If the first round of process improvement projects results in a reduction in headcount, the effort is, effectively, dead. Employees aren’t going to volunteer to participate and invest time and energy in streamlining processes when they know that it will cost them their jobs! How many employees will sign up for round two? My guess? Zero.

Have organizational leaders ever implemented Lean to reduce headcount? Unfortunately, yes. There are definitely cases of short-sighted leaders implementing Lean to eliminate jobs. This often stems from misinformation about the nature of Lean, but these are always short-lived efforts with long-lasting damage.

3 Strategies To Reduce Fear About Job Loss During Lean Efforts

The biggest obstacle to bringing Lean into an organization is fear. If employees are fearful of job loss, the organization must address the subject early in the initiative. What can a leader do to reduce fear? Here are 3 strategies to help reduce employees’ fear about job loss when implementing Lean.

The biggest obstacle to bringing Lean into an organization is fear.

1. Start With Why

Talk about the purpose and inspiration behind implementing a process improvement initiative. Some of the questions many employees may have are:

  • Why is the organization doing this?
  • Why now?
  • (If applicable) What is the burning platform?
  • What is the organization trying to accomplish by implementing Lean?
  • What is the vision of the future?

2. Communicate Early and Often

Tell employees over and over that the goal is not to eliminate people. Lean is about eliminating waste and activities that are wasteful. People are not a waste.
A leader needs to commit to saying that nobody will lose their jobs as a result of process improvement. Some employees might end up doing different jobs or different tasks. People may be re-assigned, cross-trained, or re-deployed, but what a leader should promise is that Lean efforts will not result in headcount reduction.

Employees may then wonder, “How will the organization absorb efficiencies made through process improvement?”

Employees may then wonder, “How will the organization absorb efficiencies made through process improvement?”

A very successful strategy is to use attrition to offset productivity gains: Every organization has natural attrition. Employees leave because they move, take another job, retire, etc.. When an employee voluntarily leaves, leaders can decide if it makes sense to hire a new employee or cross-train an existing employee and re-deploy them within the organization. It might mean that there’s no need to backfill a position. Ultimately organizations are increasing their capacity to do more, especially in government. There is plenty of work to do and plenty of waste to eliminate!

3. Do What You Say You Will Do

If a leader says that nobody will lose their job as a result of Lean, they need to walk that talk. Stick to your word! Site examples, communicate and show that you are following through on your promise.

If leadership cannot support this, then the organization isn’t ready for Lean.

Have your leaders used any of these 3 strategies during your Lean efforts? Will you try any? Please share with us in the comments below!

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.
  • EsachSH

    Fully agreed, sadly said most Leader today are focus on quick win result, that is why get rip of their valuable employees is become inevitable practice.