I recently wrote about ways to mitigate the risk of burning out your human capital during the economic downtown. The topic is of great relevance, for when the economy rebounds and the labor market swings, employees who felt undervalued during the downturn may just jump ship when opportunities to escape their current situation are made available.
The threat of employees departing for the promise of less stress, more pay, and better professional development is the omnipresent foil of a business manager. But once the economy revs into a growth cycle, management’s challenge will expand beyond employee retention to include the equally important and opposing push for organizational efficiency. Finance will play a big role in helping the executive team maintain discipline during periods of growth.
So how can Lean Finance help your organization? Lean finance has its roots in the Lean manufacturing approach manufacturing processes first implemented by Toyota nearly 100 years ago. And though it is still a nascent method in the finance function, it’s one we advocate.
In recent years, running a Lean organization has become code for cutting staff to the bone and burning-out remaining employees. However, companies don’t have to go to such extremes to boost productivity. In our view, Lean is optimizing the efficiency of an organization’s people, processes, and technology in such a way as to generate peak output from each element at all times. On the people side, this means having the right number of the right people with the right skills doing the right things at the right time, all in an workplace where low-value, redundant, and wasteful activities are at a minimum.
Companies can work constantly toward achieving this state. You don’t need to wait until your company is experiencing financial challenges that require a major restructuring. An opportune time to think Lean is during the normal attrition of personnel. Attrition, whether anticipated or not, presents management with the opportunity to enhance organizational efficiency. Upon departure of an employee, the typical manager calls Human Resources for help in filling the open org chart box through a new candidate search. They then retain a temp agency to secure someone to perform the desk-level work until a full-time hire is made. The role is filled and the work continues while the organization continues to suffer from obesity.
Levelx clients seek our unique process Lx Unboxed. When they find themselves down a resource, we frame the organizational improvement opportunity by working with and asking key questions such as:
- What are the most work products that derive from this role?
- Who are this role’s internal customers?
- With whom does this role partner to complete their work?
- What is the general morale of the team?
- What activities do employees in this group regularly complain about?
Once we understand the work and the resource need, we deploy a consultant to perform the desk-level work. But the consultant also strategically refines and revises the work flow in the open role and, in some cases, the work of the entire function. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate the empty org chart box.
The Lx Unboxed methodology spans five key threads:
- Evaluate the work that’s being performed in the function, including: major inputs, outputs, processes and procedures, methods and tools, customers, as well as deliverables and evaluate the amount of time required for each facet of the work
- Eliminate lower value activities, redundant work, irrelevant steps
- Consolidate steps in a process to streamline the overall work flow
- Accelerate select work steps to be completed
- Automate through technology to complete routine functions
On the surface, the end result is a company that is leaner with fewer boxes as the extraneous work activities have been eliminated or revised. The organization is now smarter and more efficient but beneath that exterior is something even more powerful… the team is happier, more effective and less inclined to seek new opportunities elsewhere.