What does it mean for an organization to be “lean?” The underlying concept for a lean organization is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. The lean concept, which originated as a business practice for Japanese manufacturers, has now become the model for efficiency and productivity by eliminating waste, promoting continuous improvement, offering shorter lead times, reducing costs, increasing profits, improving safety, and providing better customer service. With all of these advantages, it’s no wonder that manufacturing and service organizations alike want to be lean. Although the concept is simple, becoming lean requires real work. For a company to become lean, they need a change in perception and focus that, at times, may seem counterintuitive. And adopting lean practices is not a one-time process, rather it is a practice that requires continuous attention. In the following paragraphs, we’ll examine several steps for keeping your company lean.
1. Eliminate Waste
Anything that doesn’t add value needs to be eliminated. As such, the first step is to identify that waste exists. Nearly every business has areas where resources are being wasted. One common area for experiencing waste is product obsolescence, where materials become outdated before they are able to be used. The overproduction of materials and the resulting expense of inventory storage can be costly to an organization, especially when those items become obsolete.
Another area of waste, and one that is easily overlooked by organizations, is the underutilization of employees. For organizations, recognizing the abilities and talents of employees, and then utilizing those employees to their potential is a key factor in eliminating waste. Look to hire the individuals best suited for your organization and for the position, and then empower your employees to deliver.
2. Employee Engagement
Just what is employee engagement? Employee engagement, as defined by Zorian Rotenberg in “The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance and Results” (November 23, 2017), is the level to which your employees are actively dedicated to helping the organization reach its mission and goals. Why is employee engagement important? When employees are not engaged, their productivity levels decrease while both their absentee and turnover rates increase, resulting in increased operational expenses, i.e., operational waste.
To improve employee engagement, and reduce both underutilization of employees and this type of operational waste, cross-train your employees. Cross-training provides employee versatility, allowing the knowledge and skills of employees to be used in multiple areas and for a variety of tasks. Enabling your employees to use their knowledge in a variety of areas encourages employees to be more creative with their tasks, increases their sense of belonging, reduces boredom within the job, promotes employee participation, and improves employee morale—all of which are factors that determine the level of employee engagement. In addition, do not forget to listen and to communicate. Check in regularly with your employees and provide feedback so employees can measure how they, as well as the company, are performing, thus helping to maintain engagement.
3. Continuous Improvement
Going lean is not a one-time project. Rather, as the task continuous improvement (CI) suggests, it is both an ongoing effort and a shift in many organizations’ corporate culture, with the biggest determinant of success being an engaged leadership team. The leadership team must consistently ask employees for ideas for improving processes and tasks as well as seek suggestions that will have an impact on the bottom line. As important, when new procedures are implemented as a result of CI efforts, the leadership team must recognize the contributions of the employees and the successes of CI.
Promoting a culture of continuous improvement instills lean thinking throughout your organization, which leads to lean actions and an overall desire to do things better. When beginning a lean transformation project, it is common practice to set initial goals, but it is important to remember that achieving those goals is not the endpoint. Rather, when the initial goals are met, new goals need to be set, as there is always more to do—more improvements to attain, for example, or more efficiencies to discover, and better refinement of processes and procedures to eliminate waste.
When you are ready to evaluate some of your lean processes, whether that be eliminating waste, offering shorter lead times, reducing costs, or providing better customer service, Safeguard by Innovative is here to help you streamline your processes. At Safeguard by Innovative, we are the one resource you need for all of your marketing communication needs. No matter the business you’re in, we can help you minimize product obsolescence, reduce costs, and operate more efficiently. Contact us today to see how we can work for you.