Why HR Needs Lean, and Lean Needs HR

Lean HR

Lean HR

In case you didn’t already know, I kinda like Lean.  I’ve dabbled a little in the idea of tying Lean and HR together, and at times, have been known to talk about it out loud.  But sometimes, I think it makes sense to go back to the beginning and talk about how these two topics work together, and why you need them both.


Lean is, at its heart, all about reducing waste.  That’s as simple as it gets.  Find where you are losing time, money, or other materials, and then stop doing that.  It could be as simple as finding out the report you work on for two hours each week is no longer read by anyone.  It might be as complex as a complete warehouse redesign.  But every step is with the specific goal of spending fewer resources on non-value added work.

HR Needs to Learn the Value of this Work

We have a rich history full of forms, hand-offs, verifications, double checks, and redundancies.  Each one steals time, energy, and money from the organization.  And when you are a cost center, not a profit center, wasting resources is the worst thing you can do.  So HR needs Lean to learn to be better, stronger, faster, and, well, leaner.  Tools like process mapping, Pareto charts, RACI diagrams and Y to X trees are all simple but powerful ways to improve the HR function.

A Bad Rap?

Lean, on the other hand, gets a bad reputation for being the justification for layoffs and RIFs.  Lean is about reducing cost, and since people are cost, it stands to reason that Lean is about reducing people.  The fact is, Lean is about reducing waste, and people are never waste.  The only exception to that are under-used people, meaning their knowledge and insight into ways to improve the operation are ignored.

Work that Matters

HR can help Lean by preparing employees for the new work style that awaits them.  Lean isn’t about reducing people, but instead freeing them from the administrative overhead and allowing them to spend their time on work that matters.  Sometimes, that means retraining or restructuring an organization or team.  That’s a skill that screams for HR intervention, and allows both teams to play to their strengths.  The Lean team can find ways to reduce the waste in getting the work done, and the HR team can make sure the people doing the work are ready for the next step.

Getting Smart – Staying Smart

Long term, companies are in business to grow, and doing so requires smart use of resources all the way around.  The two disciplines working together can go a long way toward making that happen.  That’s why I’m so excited to have been invited to speak at the Shingo Conference this year, specifically looking at the partnership between Lean and HR.  The Shingo Institute’s mission is to guide leaders in creating sustainable, principle-based cultures of excellence, and is known for their work in advancing Lean around the world.  We’re excited to be part of the conference this year, so if you are in the D.C. area on April 25-29, drop me a note.  Would love to say hello!


Lean HR

%d bloggers like this: