Four Human Resource Factors to Consider on the Lean Six Sigma Journey

Nov. 27, 2012
Ignore these and risk compromising your improvement efforts.

When we think of Lean Six Sigma implementations, we typically first consider process flow, value streams and opportunities for significant financial improvement. Often missed are the key ramifications for human resource strategy within the manufacturing operations, as well as back-office support.

When beginning the Lean Six Sigma journey (or continuing that journey by taking improvements to the next level), several factors for recruitment and training must be taken into consideration or the results of the journey risk compromise.

1. Training isn’t a budget line-item.  It’s a pathway to success!

All too often, training is discussed, it’s budgeted for, but it’s never implemented.  When business is good and manufacturing operations are busy, management won’t commit time for training.  When business is poor and manufacturing operations are slow, management won’t commit to training because of poor cash flow.  The bottom line is that there’s never a great time to train, because there’s never a time when cash is plentiful and time is plentiful.  To develop a learning culture within the employees of a manufacturing firm, training must be viewed as a pathway to success rather than a discretionary budget item.

Training in a Lean Six Sigma company isn’t optional.  It’s required for continuous improvement.

2. The ability to see problems, envision solutions and adapt to change is a basic job requirement for all positions.

When interviewing candidates for blue-collar jobs in a manufacturing environment, there’s a tendency to focus on past employment history, skilled trade status, years of experience and the recommendations of a few past supervisors.  Manufacturing management seeks to identify the level of technical skill for the individual (be it electrical, hydraulics, assembly or other disciplines).

Unfortunately, it is exceedingly rare that management assesses the ability of blue-collar staff to evaluate situations, identify problems and formulate solutions.  These skills should be considered as important as knowing which wrench to use or how to wire a circuit.  Ultimately, these skills will provide management with grass-roots knowledge of process deficiencies and solutions that will work.

3. Managers and supervisors are expected to be facilitators, not dictators.

A major human resource challenge occurs during the Lean Six Sigma journey.  The leaders of the organization, many of whom may be most comfortable dictating instructions and orders to their reports will now be required to facilitate discussions and seek feedback (some of which may be negative) on operational practices in order to optimize performance.  The best supervisors and managers are those who can elicit strong feedback from their employees, facilitate discussion and problem-solving, and enable resolution through team effort.

4. Improved process flow is a team sport.

Historically, employees in a manufacturing environment are driven to optimize their individual performance in order to maximize economic incentives.  In a well-structured Lean Six Sigma environment, incentives (while still mostly individual-oriented) will include significant incentives for meeting team and company KPIs.  They should also incentivize team work and efforts to continually improve.  In a Lean Six Sigma environment, the optimized performance from order-to-delivery is far more important than the optimization of any one resource.

As the Lean Six Sigma journey is either started or continued at your manufacturing firm, please consider not only the financial aspects of improvement, but the necessary human resources infrastructure and process development that is needed in order to be successful.

Jason Piatt is president of Praestar Technology Corp., a provider of consulting and training services to manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic region specializing in lean, Six Sigma & strategy formation.

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