Header WCM Associates LLC Newsletter

Edition 47

January 2012

In This Issue
Human Resources Role in Developing a Lean Culture

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                        Policy Deployment and Lean Implementation Planning                     


Human Resources Role in Developing a Lean Culture


By Larry Rubrich


In the previous edition, "Sustaining Lean" was the topic, and we briefly touched on how the Human Resources area in most organizations is under-utilized in the development of a Lean Culture.


In this edition, we further define the Lean Culture building activities the HR area should be involved in.


A wise corporate president once said it was okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and do not repeat them in the future. But he also went on to say that there are two mistakes managers or leaders could make that are difficult to recover from; they are decisions about capital investments and people. People are any organizations most important asset and the key to their success.

Unfortunately, most organizations do not fully utilize HR in the company culture building activity. The company culture is left adrift to develop on its own and Human Resources is relegated to hiring, firing, and keeping us legal. Have you ever seen any Certified Lean Facilitators that have come from HR?

In Lean, the HR area plays an extremely vital role in establishing Lean as "the way we run our business and how we do our work." HR closes the feedback loop on the people side between "the strategy, culture, and the plan we say we are deploying," and the actual deployment.

An important part of this loop closure includes integrating Lean measures (which is both the support and participation in Lean activities, and the adherence to the cultural framework of behavioral expectations) into the following traditional HR areas of:

*   Performance appraisals

*   Candidates for promotion

*   Merit increases

*   Hiring recommendations

*   New employee training

*   Bonus incentives

The first time the organization, promotes or somehow publicly rewards someone that is less than a 100% supporter of our Lean activities, it sends a messages to the organization that effectively dooms the Lean deployment.

Defining a company's behavioral expectations and culture adds an aspect of "how" people do their jobs (See archived newsletter editions 37 and 38 for more information on behavioral expectations). This adds a new dimension to individual or team performance evaluations which typically only measure performance -"What we do." The typical performance review is one dimensional performance only as shown on the chart below. Within this one dimensional evaluation there are levels of unacceptability and acceptability.

Leader Performance 

In this one dimensional measure, we can confusingly lump together two different types of acceptable or higher performers. The individual who is getting acceptable performance using communication, empowerment, and teamwork within their work group, and the person who is getting acceptable performance using fear, intimidation, and a command and control style of management in their work group. Only when the culture measure of "How we do our work" is added to the evaluation does the separation in types of performers occur as shown below.


Leaders with Culture 

The above figure then represents the four types of people that comprise an organization.

By quadrant these types are:

  • In the lower left quadrant are those people whose performance is unacceptable and who will never fit into the Lean culture that is being created. These people should not be a part of the organization.
  • In the upper right quadrant are the high potential people--the people the company can be built upon. However, where does H.R. tend to spend the most time? Most organizations spend most of their time dealing with the problem people in the lower left quadrant, when they should be spending time developing high potential people. If we do not spend time developing our good people they will leave. They will become disenchanted and find more rewarding work elsewhere.
  • In the upper left quadrant are those people who have the heart and desire to fit into the Lean culture but whose performance is still unacceptable. Work with these people. They may be in the wrong job, lack training, are uninspired, etc. Help them into the upper right quadrant. We want all of our people to be in the upper right quadrant. We want people who fit into the new Lean culture and are achieving the results necessary to support the business objectives of the organization.
  • In the lower right quadrant is the person (as described above) who is getting acceptable performance using fear, intimidation, and a command and control style of management in their work group. The question becomes can they adopt the habits of the new culture and leave the old habits behind? Again, the goal is for everyone to be in the upper right quadrant. On page 112 in the book, Leading Change, noted organizational change expert John Kotter addresses this type of employee and provides strategies for handling this situation.                                                        

Additional H.R. Lean responsibilities include monitoring, and testing for the completeness of the communication and empowerment plan. Measuring communication effectiveness means testing using activities such as: 

  • Management By Walking Around (MBWA) - randomly asking associates what, when, how, and why questions about goals and strategies that have been communicated. 
  • Monitoring the amount of rumors in the organization. Rumors have only one reason to exist in an organization-to fill in gaps in communication. 
  • The types of questions during the Q & A section at the required monthly "all-hands" company meetings--are people asking questions they should already know the answers to?
  • Are all business areas visually communicating with the rest of the company? Can a person tell what is going on in the organization from the visual communication?

Part of the evaluation of the completeness of both the communication and empowerment plan should rely on the use of surveys performed by outside companies.





Kotter, J. (1996) Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press


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