Lean Is Not The Enemy of Innovation

Friend of the show Kathy Duffy and I had a conversation recently about this.  After some ongoing discussions, I found the idea of Lean and Innovation being bitter enemies was prevalent enough to merit some discussion.

If you think Innovation and Lean aren’t chummy, you haven’t spent much time in a real Lean environment.  Let’s think about what makes up Innovation.

  • The introduction of something new
  • The process of creating new ideas, methods, products or services

Pretty straightforward.  Now let’s think about what Lean really gets you.

  • Identify new ways of performing work with less waste
  • Eliminate non-value added (busywork) to allow for more valued activities to be completed in less time
  • Identify application methods to increase throughput and productivity

Yeah, total opposites.

Look, I get that there are people who don’t understand Lean.  (Obviously not you, since you read the blog.  You get it, right?)  There is a mindset that Lean stands for “Less Employees Are Needed.”  There’s a fear that Lean means layoffs, and only the bare minimum of people will be around after.

The truth is that most companies are looking to grow, not shrink.  That means more people, not fewer.  But to do so effectively means getting rid of the busywork and letting you focus on doing things that matter to your customers.  That’s how you increase your business, that’s how you grow.  Lean helps you find that busywork so you can eschew it.

There is also the continuous improvement side of Lean.  It’s not enough to just eliminate the easy to find waste.  You have to look deeper and keep finding ways to go faster, safer and at higher levels of quality.  To do that, you have to be creative and innovative.  Just try coming up with better answers with no new ideas.

The idea that Lean and Innovation are enemies is nonsensical.  Lean and Innovation are like peanut butter and jelly.  Both good, but way better together.


Overlooked Innovation

Innovation is a word that gets tossed around quite a bit these days. Everyone is looking for an edge, the next great idea, the shining beacon of the future that will put their company on track and ahead of the game.  We all want it, but we’re often not quite sure where to look.

Hold that thought for a second.

I mentioned previously that the HR professional I know are wont to talk about the “interesting” cases they deal with, the troubles, the scofflaws, the outrageous and the incredible.  And one common theme that I’ve noticed lately are the amazing stories of the office thief.

The office thief has pulled some amazing stunts.  A metric ton of office supplies hidden in his socks.  Countless stacks of change smuggled out in her stuffed dog.  A complex series of movements that results in a windfall taken out in $1 increments.  All right under your nose, and often without being detected for months or years.  And that’s just the small timers.  All of these office thieves have a few common traits.

They are motivated

Someone has done them wrong, at least in their view of the world.  Usually it is “the company,” the faceless entity, that has wronged them by passing them over for promotion, giving them a smaller raise than they deserved, raising heath insurance premiums, charging for coffee, or some other grievance.  Their recourse is to take small nibbles at the ankles of the behemoth, getting some sense of satisfaction from that bit of revenge.  So they put their mind to work coming up with ways of getting their revenge.  Because we all know that nothing evens the score like wallpapering your house with neon Post-It notes.

They are clever

The amazing schemes these people concoct make for great networking fodder.  There seems to be a never ending supply of stories about them, and no two are alike.  No matter where you go, you will find tales of the office thief.  Amazingly, it always ends in them getting caught and dismissed, as well as the occasional company pressing charges.  It always makes me wonder, though, about how many more are out there that haven’t been caught yet.

They are energetic

The schemes of the office thief are usually complex and require a lot of work to execute.  Early mornings, late nights and a host of difficulties are often part of their plan.  But because they are motivate, they persevere.  And in the end they often so a whole lot of extra work.  But that’s OK, because they do it by choice.  They are, as we might say, very engaged in their task.  But of course, it’s their task, which makes it palatable.

Back to Innovation

Motivated, clever and energetic are the main ingredients of creativity.  It is the unhappy part that does us in.  But think how many great ideas we could generate if we could find a way to tap the resources of the office thief and use their powers for good!

I’m not suggesting, of course, that when we catch a thief, we promote them.  Instead, I’m suggesting we recognize that they are indeed innovative members of the team, but are misguided.  As a manager of people or an HR practitioner, part of your role is recognizing when an employee is about to go off the rails and guide them back to the land of the productive.  But how often is that guidance pointed toward capturing the festering feeling of resentment into innovation?  Do you instead try to refocus them on the job that led them to be unhappy in the first place?

The next time you are dealing with an unhappy employee, be it displeasure over their role, dissatisfaction with their pay, or just being demotivated in general, think about the damage this person could cause if they turn into the office thief and vent their frustrations.  Then think about the best way to turn that energy, creativity and motivation into a positive force for change.  The results might surprise you.  And them.


Xtreme HR: Innovation, PT 3

Third and final day of this series from Chris Ponder.  You can part one here and part two here.  Today’s question:

  • Based on your definition of innovation with Question 1 and how you are innovating yourself with Question 2, how can you assist others with innovating themselves – their thinking, career, goals, etc.?
  • What advice can you provide others in innovating themselves, personally or professionally? What is required to be successful at transforming?

Sharing Innovation

The best way I know how to share what I’ve done is right here on the blog.  I’ve written quite a bit about the challenges we have encountered, the frustrations that come with working through obstacles and objections, and the tremendous upside that is available to those who can overcome those things.

Additionally, I am spending time speaking at conferences and sharing what I know about technology and Lean tools.  I’ve long said that there is plenty in HR that can be improved, and we don’t need a lot of “creative problem finding” in the profession right now.  “Creative problem solving,” though, is invaluable, and that’s what I try to focus on.  If I can share what I know and help out some of my HR brethren to be more successful in their careers,  I call that time well spent.

Driving Transformations

Without question, the most important thing is to know what “success” means to you and your stakeholders.  Is it a 5% reduction in cost?  Doubling the number of employees you can support?  Taking six software packages offline?  Filling all your requisitions in less than 30 days?  Whatever it is, know before you start.  Get a clear goal, and focus on it.  Hold to your scope, hold to your target, and hold to your ideals.

If you can do that, you’ll have a much better chance of being successful.

Xtreme HR: Innovation, PT 2

Day two of the Innovation series from Xtreme HR blog.  Today’s question…

  • Based on your definition of Innovation in Question 1, how are you innovating yourself either personally or professionally in 2011?
  • What does this innovation look like and how are you getting the word out to your network?

To recap from yesterday, I see innovation as creative problem solving and creative problem finding.  Much of the work I’m doing, both in my day job and social media second life would fall into this category…

PeopleSoft self service implementation

I work with teams across the globe to define what they need in their world from self service, listening to their concerns and helping to figure out how to implement those changes.  Most of the work is done by those on the ground who know their customers and their community, so my part is very much support.  File this under “creative problem solving.”

HR Technology vision

I’m helping to build the dream of what the system might do…someday…maybe.  There are a lot of big dreams in this one.  Trying to see how far you can stretch those dreams, and what you might be able to make happen.  This is more of the “creative problem finding.”

What does it look like?  A lot of arguing, a lot of off topic discussions, a lot of tangents, and hopefully a lot of questions.  But that’s how progress gets built, right?  If those things aren’t happening, we probably aren’t getting much done.

More to come tomorrow!

XtremeHR: Innovation, Pt 1

Friend of the show Chris Ponder is hosting another “Be a Storyteller” series, and I’m always happy to add my voice to the masses.  The three part series starts with “How Do You Define Innovation?”  Enjoy!


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