As I travel around the country, I see help wanted signs posted at a variety of business venues. It used to be that the only places that were hiring were either fast food or seasonal. Now even manufacturing companies are hanging out signs on their property and posting “help wanted” banners where they are likely to capture the greatest attention. It is refreshing to see a resurgence in hiring, but is it really necessary? Probably not. If your company is considering hiring additional staff – pull the plug on advertising, take down the signs and tell the HR people to put a hold on all hiring.

Do I have your attention? Good. Let me tell you why I am so adamant about placing a freeze on hiring. If your shop is not lean, you have, at a minimum, 30 percent more resources than are needed to meet demand. Thirty-percent is a conservative estimate.

A typical non-lean shop should be able to double throughput with an engaged staff and focused, dedicated leadership. Don’t take my word for it though. Call Dustin Hunter, CEO of Hunter Trim and Cabinets in Ft. Worth, Texas. Dustin’s number is (940) 841-0025. He will be happy to talk to you and even more delighted to have you visit his shop. Ask him to tell you how his company’s revenue has grown five times since December 2012. Throughput of cabinets has increased 300 percent with virtually the same resources.

Can that happen in your shop? He didn’t believe it could happen in his either, but now he’s convinced there is even more growth opportunity by continuing to apply Lean Thinking through an already engaged staff.

Different day, same stuff

You may be thinking, “How can this guy make such a bold statement when he knows nothing about what we make and what we go through every day to create a meaningful experience for our customers?”  Maybe you might use a little different language, some of which I can’t put in print. I am confident because every non-lean shop I visit is a mirror of the one before it. Leaders are endeavoring to do their best under stressful circumstances, while living the cliché, “Different day, same stuff.”

My experience, reinforced by 30 years of implementing and facilitating Lean Thinking in a variety of business segments, always reveals the same findings. That being that every non-lean company has at least 30 percent more people resources, 50 percent more space resources, 75 percent more on-hand inventory and probably far more technology tying up valuable real estate than is necessary to meet current demand. Hanging out the “help wanted” sign will only exacerbate the situation.

Typical response

Hiring more people is the typical response when demand is increasing, lead-time is extending, overtime is killing profits and leaders are becoming frustrated with a seemingly out-of-control situation. Increasing the number of resources in your shop – people, space and equipment – are the last things that should be explored. Eliminating the barriers that are keeping your existing resources from being as productive as possible should be the first step taken.

However, a leader cannot eliminate the barriers alone. It takes a willing, able, engaged, excited and empowered staff, working collaboratively with company leaders to identify and eliminate the multitude of barriers that have erected over the years of the company’s existence.

Changing mind-set

The first barrier is the mind-set that leaders have all the answers. They don’t. In fact, many of the responses that leaders offer for questions from the staff come strictly from the hip and are intended to get a person back to work rather than solving a problem. Leaders are usually guessing at a solution. If one suggestion doesn’t work, the leader grasps another straw.

For a leader to lead there has to be a staff willing to follow. If you genuinely enlist the help of the staff, you will have willing participants in the problem identification and solution process.

Frame every situation you face in this format: “What is preventing me (or us) from …?”  Don’t get too broad in the scope of the question though. For instance, “What is preventing us from meeting customer delivery dates?” That is a broad question with a lot of contributing factors. Break it down to an individual process level. “What is preventing us from getting more parts through edgebanding?” or “What is preventing us from getting jobs through engineering in less time?” Once you have the question properly framed, follow it with another question.

“What will happen if we increase throughput at the edgebander?” You need to know the consequences of the actions being considered. If the process that follows edgebanding cannot consume additional parts without work in progress (WIP) building up, then obviously edgebanding is not the barrier to increased throughput. The same is true for the time a job sits in engineering. If the engineering staff is capable of processing more jobs in the same or shorter time and jobs sit in queue at the saw or CNC, then no overall gain in throughput has been accomplished. So, what is a leader to do?

Applying Lean Thinking

As I have promoted on a number of occasions, the leader needs to become educated in Lean Thinking, enable the staff to apply Lean Thinking, spend quality time in gemba (where the work is done) and identify opportunities for improvement for which the staff will be challenged to develop solutions.

It sounds like a lot of work, but when properly applied, Lean Thinking will make everyone’s job easier, better, faster and cheaper. Reducing or eliminating waste and non-value-adding activity is the barrier-breaker that enables all resources to be more productive. Connecting processes to create flow reduces WIP, which reduces floor space usage. Reducing the Seven Deadly Wastes allows people to create more value in the time available.

When resources become more productive, fewer of them are needed to meet current demand and there is more time available to handle increased demand. More productive resources will change the leader’s focus from trying to find good employees in a diminishing pool of potential workers to seeking additional work for the current staff. That is a good situation to be in.

One final question for the business owner or senior leader to consider. Do you have shop leaders who are also bench-hands? How can you expect a leader to lead when he is saddled with generating parts for the people he is supposed to be leading? Get him off the bench! His first challenge, after he understands how to apply Lean Thinking, should be to increase the productivity of everyone else. Their increased productivity eliminates the need for him to be on a bench and allows him more time to apply Lean Thinking to improve productivity further.

Hiring additional people, building a bigger shop, or buying the latest and greatest technology to produce more widgets will not provide the results you seek to meet the challenge of increased demand. Applying Lean Thinking to maximize the resources you already have will deliver results beyond your wildest expectations. Instead of calling an employment agency, call a lean professional.

 

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