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Why is HR critical to the success of large lean projects?

Posted on: October 10, 2020

By Cheryl M. Jekiel, author of Lean Human Resources and Founder of the Lean Leadership Resource Center (LLRC) who has been implementing Lean initiatives out of HR offices for more than 20 years.


People are the single biggest factor necessary to ensure business success but it is common for the critical role of the HR department to be overlooked by organisations undertaking large lean projects such as lean transformation or creating a lean culture of continuous improvement. 

HR is best placed to take an active leadership role for the following three fundamental reasons:.

lean hr

1. HR is in the best position to redefine job roles to ensure that all the elements of how people work align with higher-level lean skills and the company’s vision, mission, and goals.

2. HR typically holds ownership of developing leaders, which is paramount to a successful lean transformation.

3. HR plays a significant role in developing and maintaining a company’s culture. For all these reasons, the department devoted to people needs to be front and center with lean, because lean is fundamentally about people. 

Many executives I’ve met over the years believe that HR has no driving role in lean because so many companies have implemented lean without involving HR. However, that perspective does not prove that the department is unnecessary to a lean transformation. Rather, it suggests an oversight: Perhaps the lack of HR involvement is the reason so many companies fail to sustain lean practices to the degree they desire.

An assumption, not often articulated, is that many HR professionals are unprepared to support a lean transformation, let alone capable of having a significant impact on lean results. Perhaps. But to the true lean practitioner, this is a problem to be exposed and solved, not ignored. 

Nine times out of ten, when I talk to someone about Lean HR, we start with this type of confusion. For example, I was preparing to teach a workshop about Lean HR and a participant indicated that he thought we would be discussing how to apply lean to HR. It took quite a bit of explaining to open his eyes to the broader conversation. 

Once I started sharing my ideas about Lean HR, I realized many people are hesitant to tell me that HR is not respected. I find it almost amusing that people often think I’m unaware of this. The purpose of my Lean HR work is both to explain how HR can contribute to a lean transformation and to elevate the function’s stature. Indeed, a meeting with someone who expressed a negative attitude about HR, in general, prompted the development of my Lean HR philosophy. When I asked this person about HR’s role in his work, his face scrunched up into an expression of disappointment. He shrugged and said, “We simply work around them.” This inspired my pursuit of promoting the role of HR in lean enterprises. I believe this unacceptable, though common, view of is one reason lean efforts—and many business strategies—fail.


Redesigning HR Processes for a Culture of Continuous Improvement, Second Edition
by Cheryl M. Jekiel

Encouraging a long overdue shift in thinking, this book provides managers and executives with the means to maximize employee potential by first showing them how to increase the improvement power of their HR departments. It defines the people-related approaches and practices needed to alter any cultural dynamic that keeps employees from leveraging their peak abilities.

Visit Book Page