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Senior Correspondent

"Our people are our most important asset." We hear that everywhere we go. And, we see those words in corporate literature and on plaques in businesses and organizations. And, to that we say a heartfelt "Amen, Brothers and Sisters!"

Before The Quality Coach! was born, I was blessed to work in Human Resources for a manufacturing plant once owned by Eaton Corporation. Our plant was an experiment that Eaton chose to conduct in the middle of a corn field overlooking the Missouri River in rural Washington, Miss.. Our piston ring foundry employed approximately 350 employees in jobs that paid well and offered outstanding benefits. We always had a long list of folks wanting to work there. And, we really put candidates through their paces before offering them a position. Several companies benchmarked our people philosophy and practices, and I was often asked to help them understand what we were doing and why.

The philosophy behind Eaton Corporation's experiment was that we were all adults and that we could be trusted to work together for the best interests of our customers and our business. We had no time clocks, no rigid rules. We were an all-salaried plant. That meant we were treated the same whether we worked in the office or on the factory floor. We knew it was our obligation to live up to the standards and the trust Eaton Corporation had bestowed in us; and very few took advantage of the system. We did not punish the many for the sins of the few. Our attendance statistics were stellar as were our performance metrics.

We kept it simple. We spent a great deal of our human resource energy on educating employees on our business, involving them in making improvements, and providing a teaming and problem solving structure so they could work together for the good of the business and its customers. Working with leadership and supervisors to bring out the best in our employees was certainly my favorite part of the job. I learned to see my Human Resources role as a way to help leverage the people power in our company … a way to help insure that our people were truly our most important asset.

Fast forward a few decades, and our Quality Coach Team still draws from that wonderful experiment on a daily basis to help clients tap into and focus the people power in their organizations.

Most companies and organizations today are focused on some form of continuous improvement, out of necessity. Waste of any kind is just too expensive to tolerate and most organizations are focused on reducing and eliminating any and all forms of waste. The LEAN philosophy recognizes eight forms of deadly waste.

  • Defects.
  • Over-production.
  • Wait time.
  • Non-value added processing.
  • Transportation.
  • Excess Inventory.
  • Wasted Motion.
  • Employee/People Waste.

While these forms of waste are more easily recognized in manufacturing, they also exist in all kinds of organizations, small and large: For-profit, Not-for-Profit, Health Care, Professional Services, Retail, Governmental Entities. We all know that, as consumers and taxpayers, we are in no mood to pay hard earned dollars for anything wasteful. The least obvious form of waste is the Employee or People Waste. This is the waste of not using employee's talents, and mental, creative and physical abilities for the highest value they can add to the enterprise. For example, if we do not have an effective and efficient way to elicit and implement employee improvement ideas, this could be considered a form of waste. Common causes of wasting our most valuable asset are:

  • Lack of teamwork at all levels. Teamwork begins at the senior level and rolls downhill. So does everything else, for that matter.
  • Inadequate training.
  • Unclear expectations.
  • Poor communication
  • A "We've always done it that way" mindset
  • Misaligned processes
  • Not engaging front line employees in reducing the other seven deadly wastes.

If we are in a leadership or supervisory role of any kind, we are also in Human Resources. We do not need to have those words in our job title. We do not need to wait for our Human Resources Departments to get caught up with the millions of tasks they must do these days in a more complicated and regulated employment environment. We must act as a catalyst for the talent in the departments we lead, assuring that folks are focused on what's most important, which includes being detectives for the seven other forms of deadly waste in our operations.

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