When a workplace is just starting its lean journey, there are do’s and don’t do’s. One important thing to do is, to be honest, and spell things with their name. We all appreciate when our boss care enough, to be honest, this drives out fear which is a major roadblock for any improvement activity. Trust is critical on any relationship; including the relationship with our employees.
Unfortunately still today we manage our companies based on headcount and objectives and measure the company health using accounting methods that glorify inventory on hand. For that reasons, we are constantly looking at the wrong metrics which lead us to make drastic cuts in the budget, usually starting with people reduction. When the crisis arrives and budget cuts are on the way people fear about job loss and work every day with extra stress and concerns. Management then grabs whatever is available to keep the company alive and usually, that involves starting some continuous improvement effort and layoffs.
Do not start your budget cut exercise by cutting people, look for all sources of waste first. If the company decide that a layoff is necessary, be careful with your actions as well as with your words. Do not use the words lean and layoffs on the same sentence. Sometimes we have too many people and is necessary to cut back on our total manpower if that is the case; be honest. and tell the employees upfront the real reason. But do this only if after thoughtful analysis there is no other option. After this, make a commitment with your employees that this will be the only time you will have layoffs, and please do not lie about this, say it only if you mean it. Respect your employees, respect your commitment.
We do not want people to associate lean with layoffs because there is no way our employees will trust on anything that comes from “lean” if on their minds lean and layoffs goes together. This sparks the fear and suspicious about the real reasons behind every single kaizen event or action we take. Without trust, any continuous improvement initiative will fail. There is no other way to be successful, we need to trust our employees, care about them, empower them to improve their processes and respect our word. After all, we are family, we spend more time with them than with our blood families, that would be our way to show appreciation on the work area.