How Lean is too Lean: Has your business become too thin?

Lean Let’s be truthful about this. The methodology and principles applied by the business as part of a Lean approach to operations management can be very effective and have had a massive positive cumulative effect on the operations of many businesses. Thanks to the Toyota Production System we now see methodologies around Lean commonly implemented across manufacturing product companies and service organisations ranging over a broad spectrum of vertical sectors.

Whilst I am a big fan of Lean and its consequential benefits for the business, of late I have seen, how the over application of Lean or adopting the ‘wrong end of the stick’ can lead to dire outcomes. This is where we have to ask ourselves a couple of serious self-reflecting questions which I will get to in a second.

Lean is aimed at inter alia reducing waste in the organisation. One of the fundamental elements of Lean adopted to support your continuous improvement and innovation management process is the involvement of the employee. By bringing the employee into the process and supplying the employee with a voice to actively participate in improvement efforts by making suggestions and producing ideas. To ensure this element is met, a climate must be created and sustained, that will stimulate idea sharing and suggestions being produced. It should indeed become part of the culture of the organisation and calls for the correct management style to be adopted. Command and Control as we know it, is a no-go area and will not support this way of working (a topic I will cover off in another blog post).

Lean2What bothers me is the many ‘Lean’ businesses I have visited over the last couple of years, that are perhaps not as Lean as they initially thought they were. Well they invested in nothing, if that is what you want to call being Lean. Going into a boardroom I have the CEO proudly and eagerly announcing ‘we are a Lean business’.  When doing any consultancy I like to do a gap analysis and this often involves rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on ground level in the relevant business area. After all some of the best ideas come directly from front-line staff. My diagnosis – we have a serious case of a Cheapskate business, dressed in Lean clothing. It’s a management style, a way of doing things.

Some organisations like to hide behind Lean principles to go on redundancy sprees, limiting investment in the staff of the business, overloading employees with too much work, and in the process creating a very unhappy workforce. So how does this support Lean? It does not. A happy workforce is key to your Lean strategy and must never become just about cutting down where the opportunity presents itself. You will soon find yourself with a much bigger burden and expense to carry – that of an unsatisfied workforce and big turnover of staff. Your suggestions pot will be empty, creativity will be out of the door and there will be no business left before you know it. Do you really champion your people though Lean?

Your Intranet: An information dump?

Information DumpI recently attended a course at Warwick Business School where I’ve had the privilege of ‘touring online’ and seeing examples of quite a few intranet solutions of many well known organisations. It was indeed an eye opener. There were fewer great intranets with employee engagement at the core of the solution than there were intranets that appeared to be nothing more than a one-way data repository or information dump than anything else. On some of these ‘tours’ I felt a bit like sitting through an awfully long company policy induction session of a financial services organisation. One of the interesting trends is  ‘The message from our CEO’ that has become very prominent of late, boldly displayed on the main intranet page. But there was something missing. Comment features had been disabled or removed so as to prevent employees from commenting on any posts by the CEO and where this was not the case, I was told, ‘the comments you do see have all been moderated and anything in disagreement with the CEO has been removed’.  Come on now, where is the fun in that? What happened to employee engagement and giving the employee a voice?

The real purpose of your intranet solution ought to be to provide the employee across any function and on any level, with a single one-stop-shop solution that will allow the employee to obtain any information he/she may need, anywhere and at any given point in time, a platform where employees can engage with one another, with management and share ideas and views. It should also be a place where we can collaborate, connect and play an active part in the organisation.

Orgnisations are realising how powerful enterprise networking and collaboration software, systems and tools have become, and many are now integrating these tools in the intranet solution to drive business objectives, provide the employee with a better experience, and a better way of working. Such a fully integrated intranet solution with applications designed around the needs of your employees drives a climate that will stimulate employee involvement and collaboration. If anything, it will drive the desired culture in your organisation.

It would be good to hear your comments. What do you think of your intranet solution?