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May 14, 2012 / mike54martin

Lean, Mean, Effective Machine?

I read an article recently about how companies and organizations in Canada and around the world are trying to introduce manufacturing best practices into all aspects of their day to day lives, including their human resource functions like staffing and recruitment. It is an interesting concept but not one without its challenges in both implementation and effectiveness.

One thing that might work is the idea of eliminating steps in the staffing process and thereby reducing the time it takes to staff a vacant position. If done right this certainly has the potential to lower costs and improve service to customers. If done wrong it can be equally disastrous, especially if the faster staffing process misses a key quality control element like following up on references or checking education credentials. You could end up with not only the wrong hire, but even more serious problems later on.

But my biggest concern about “lean” approaches to human resource functions is that employees are not widgets on an assembly line and in our rush to the nirvana of efficiency we actually miss the point. That human resources and other people friendly services are often what separate man from machine. We have come a long ways from having a payroll office attached to finance and little else to support employees and managers to the modern concept of human resources and while we may save money I’m not sure it’s good business in the long run.

We have to continue to find ways to be more efficient and cost-effective in all our human resource functions. I don’t happen to believe that we’re ready for “just in time” HR. To me that takes away the value added of having skilled human resource advisers available to mentor managers, deal proactively with employee issues and help executives communicate their messages throughout the organization. And if lean means less, which it usually does I absolutely disagree with taking resources out of existing human resource operations.

These are trying financial times but human resources are absolutely the wrong place to cut staff or reduce expenditures. That’s because in good times they help the organization grow and in bad times they help you survive. Can we do things better? Absolutely. Can we be leaner in human resources? Yes. We can all stand to lose a few pounds. But let’s not pretend that putting you on a diet is going to help reduce my weight. There are no quick fixes in losing weight or cutting costs whether in manufacturing or human resources.

This post originally appeared on my blog at

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellnsess consultant

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