People Systems Workshop

It's About People! How can Human Resources help us adopt a Lean Management System

3/15/2018 – 3/16/2018

Cambridge MA

At first, we were so impressed with the efficiencies of maximizing product flow and operator efficiencies that it was hard to believe that anything else could be more central to the true essence of Lean. I still recall our early conversations with our Japanese sensei that would be punctuated with “do more kaizen, develop kaizen mind” over and over again.
The problem was that sensei was preaching to the choir. I already saw the power of Lean, or so I thought. What could be more important than securing the future of our company through the indisputable and significant productivity improvements we were seeing at the end of each 5-day kaizen event. But it simply wasn’t sustainable. There were exceptions to be sure. There were isolated areas and departments lead by energetic charismatic leaders making products that were direct fits into the classic approaches to the prescribed kaizen process. But then we had the majority of other departments that were chronically taking three very expensive steps forward, and two relentless steps backward. Years later HR started to get involved….mostly to help us handle the crescendo of labor relations issues stemming from workers being made to do work in ways they didn’t understand and certainly didn’t agree with. A sad lost opportunity to engage the hearts and minds of those that provide the value-added work into our products and services.
The saddest part was that it could have been avoided. Actually, scratch that thought. Avoiding the negativity that came with Lean would be the bare minimum. Presenting an opportunity to take the mayhem out of the workplace and replace it with sanity, engaging leaders and workers to work more collaboratively together, and engaging the hearts and minds of the workers rather than just their hands are all undeniably great things for workers as well as managers. Hoping to just avoid a negative reaction while doing so seems a bit like putting training wheels on a racing bike. Is that it? Do we just want to keep people from being angered? Or do we want them to be excited about the prospects of what Lean has to offer the organization? Simply saying to do more kaizen and to develop kaizen mind misses the point entirely.
Lean is a management system that centers around a team-based collaborative problem-solving methodology. The target condition we seek is: Everybody, Everyday coming together and asking three simple questions
Continually improving the process each and every day. When we commit to this, it changes everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
  • Workers play an integral role in solving problems.
  • Leaders become coaches building the problem-solving muscle of their teams.
  • Everyone is committed to working as a team to identify and solve problems.
So what does this mean to the HR professional working within an organization dedicated to pursuing a Lean thinking culture?
The policies, systems, and practices that surround how employees are recruited, hired, on-boarded, trained, managed, compensated, communicated with, given performance feedback, and given opportunities for promotion play a major role in the culture of the organization. A Lean transformation is a cultural transformation. Isolated areas can, for a limited time, purely through zeal and energy, be successful. But over time the prevailing headwinds of these systems will take over and the pockets of success will erode and assimilate into the predominant legacy culture we seek to change.
We need to consider several areas on which to focus our attention. Too often we see organizations putting this off for later. Sometimes HR is simply “out of the loop” and not engaged until employee unrest starts to become an issue. Other times the blockage is more overt due to downsizing and HR becomes focused on the nuts and bolts of pay, benefits, and labor relations. There is always a promise of engaging HR at a later date. But the problem is that the systems we are talking about take time to change due to the vetting required to make changes happen effectively. Postponing engagement of HR in a Lean transformation means that changes will not be in place in a timely manner and will not be coordinated with the transformation plan.
Change management is a well-known topic with many resources at our disposal from which to choose. But we are talking about a specific change that will have well-defined phases over a 2 to 5-year period. We need a phased approach to change management that is well informed of the Lean transformation strategy. It should keep pace with the changes, such that each stakeholder group is effectively prepared for the specific changes well in advance. Communication, training, and systems implementation need to be properly timed so that when the change does come about, it happens with as little disruption as possible.
The Employee Value Stream encompasses all of the key processes employees will encounter from the time they are hired to the time they separate from the organization. Each of those policies, systems, and practices have to be examined closely to determine if they enable or hinder the adoption of a team based collaborative problem-solving culture. Alternatives need to be developed, tested, and fully vetted in advance of broad-scale changes.
Finally, HR is the bellwether, keeping line management informed as to the perceptions and attitudes of the workforce. Organizations go through well understood and predictable reactions to change. HR is in an ideal position to regularly pulse the organization at each juncture of the transformation plan and provide feedback to the management team regarding the current culture versus where they expected to be.
Many efforts at adopting a Lean Management System end in silent abandonment. While People Systems are not the only success factor, it is a very important one. It is also the one factor that we see most often neglected in planning for and executing a successful transformation.  
Educational Offerings
If you found the article of interest and would like to learn more about this and People Value Streams, we invite you to participate in our upcoming training event, in partnership with The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Who should attend?
  • HR Professionals
  • Leaders responsible for implementing a Lean Management System in their organization.
Course Title- People Systems, a Component of the Lean Management System
When- March 15-16
Where- LEI headquarters Cambridge Ma
Cost- $1,600
Or if you prefer, we can bring this course to your location and tailor it to your specific needs.
If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact us at
Best Regards,
Joe Murli




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