Leaning into HR

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“LEANING” Into Human Resources: Getting The Best Out of Your Employees

In the days of automation and artificial intelligence, employers are looking to lean out their workforce and become more efficient through the use of technological advancements. Unfortunately, a great deal of the “leaning out” process is being done by removing the human element from the job equation.

If you’re a little cynical like I am and less sure of the positive outcome of the “A.I. boom”, then you tend to continue to place hope in the ability of people to complete complex tasks and do it efficiently. Studies have shown that employees struggle more with undefined roles than with complex job tasks. The capability of an employee increases drastically when she or he understands what is expected of them within the context of the greater mission of the organization.

Finding the right employee for the job is perhaps the most important step in productivity and efficiency; but it’s not the only step. How do you ensure that you find the right employee for the job if you haven’t first defined the roles and responsibilities that coincide with the job that you’re hiring for?

According to a recent Gallup poll, an estimated 20% of employees leave their jobs due to a lack of “job fit”. An additional 17% leave because they feel that management has not set clear goals and expectations, thus creating a dysfunctional work environment. Employees who have clear directives and expectations at the onset of their employment, perform better, are more motivated, have a higher level of accountability for their work and actions while in the workplace, are less likely to quit or look for another job, and are more likely to become ambassadors for the organization as they begin to view themselves more as business partners than employees.

Defining job roles is not as simple as it might sound. This is an area where a lot of employers struggle. Organizations with unclear corporate goals and initiatives, also have difficulty defining roles for their employees. One of the first things an organization should do when trying to become more efficient (besides establishing and/or reviewing corporate objectives) is to conduct an audit of the organization. This is done by looking at the current staff and seeing how their individual productivity and efficiency measures up to the overall business objectives. The employer should look to address inefficiencies by merging current job roles, eliminating roles that are no longer beneficial to the organization, training and/or retraining employees whose responsibilities have increased or who’s roles have changed, and finally; by hiring new employees to fill-in talent gaps.

What does an employee need to know in order to be productive within an organization?

  • What are the expectations of my role?
  • Who do I report to in order to confirm that the tasks associated with my role have been completed or that I am on the right track to completing those tasks?
  • What level of authority do I have when it comes to making autonomous decisions pertaining to my job tasks?
  • How often and by what matrix, are the expectations of my role being measured?

It is important to note that a role is not synonymous with a job responsibility or task. Roles are positions within the organization that might have a multitude of responsibilities and tasks assigned to them. It should be an employer’s goal to define the role and then assign responsibilities to that role that mesh well with the employee’s skills set. This allows organizations to measure the employee’s overall competency versus using a singular form of measurement that is more task-based. Organizations should begin to view their employees as being on par with customers in the valuation of how integral they are to the success of the business. This vision will allow basic principles of lean management to be used when measuring the productivity of the workforce.

5 Key Lean Principles and how they can be applied to the workforce

Value – Value is identified by asking the following questions: What are the basic needs of the employee? How well is their current role fulfilling those basic needs? Value feedback can be obtained in a multitude of ways including, but not limited to, the following: Employee surveys/reviews, suggestion boxes, open-door communication, attention to non-verbal language, and team meetings.

Value Stream – Once the value of the role is established, the next thing to do is to identify the steps that should be taken to both maintain and to create further fulfillment in the role. Work to eliminate the tasks that are of decreasing value to the company. This also benefits the employee by getting rid of tasks that don’t make them more valuable in the eyes of the management team. An employee can often sense when the tasks that she or he has been assigned are not adding value to the organization and are even somewhat menial in nature.

Flow – Once value has been established and streamlined, the next step is to begin to add value by encouraging the employee to be cross-functional. This can be done by offering additional training and incrementally increasing an employee’s responsibility. Creating “Flow” goes a long way in boosting an employee’s confidence and making them feel as if they are a part of the company’s long-term future. Pull – Although this might seem like a tricky one to apply to employees, it is really quite simple. It just simply means to create an environment that is devoid of confusion. When this is done correctly, the employee understands their position, understands the value that the job function brings to the organization, and has the ability to reproduce the behaviors that are more likely to result in their success.

Perfection – One mistake that an employer can make, is to think that they have it all figured out from a human resources perspective. The process of becoming a great organization and a successful business, takes constant measuring, evaluation, iteration, evolution, and vigilance in proper implementation of processes. Perfection, in this sense, doesn’t mean getting it all right. On the contrary, it means recognizing that there is always room for improvement and that every day should be a day spent chasing greater efficiency and productivity; specifically, within your labor force.

As long as business owners take the proper steps to identify the organization’s goals and objectives, identify the job roles that are needed to reach those goals and objectives, hire the right people for those roles, constantly add value to the people who you choose to place within those roles, and never lose sight of this process; the business will be well on its way to hitting its mark. Money does not make the world go around, people do. Keep the people within the organization happy and they will keep the organization productive.