Operations and Human Resources: A Business Partnership

The missing piece…

It’s 5:30 a.m. Aria walks into her local coffee shop and is greeted by Tom, a brown haired, green eyed barista. They chat about the weather and the news headlines from the night before. Aria pays Tom $4.35 for her latte and proceeds to the other end of the counter to wait for her beverage.

As Aria arrives at the other end of the counter, she is greeted by Sam, who just made Aria’s latte. He smiles, looking at Aria with glowing eyes, and says, “Aria, I have your latte for you. Please have a special day and thank you for letting us help start your day off with a smile.”

What Tom and Sam are not aware of is that Aria is on her way back to the hospital to visit her very sick daughter who was operated on a few days prior. She happened to be just well enough that Aria could step away and get a coffee on this particular morning.

Aria, who has spent every moment bed-side with her child, simply needed a moment to experience a “normal interaction” that did not include doctors, nurses, machines, medicine, tears, and despair.

If we take a second look at the story behind the latte, there was a Lean Operating System contributing to an Organizational Lean Transformation Initiative.

This means that the work process to prepare Aria’s latte and the other 12 beverages in queue, had been broken down into parts; each one timed and sequenced into work routines so that each item ordered was arriving for the customer every 38 seconds or so, meeting the demand rate.

At the same time, team leader Sue was observing the work being done and coaching the team members through solving any problems that were coming up. Sue’s store was early on in the spread of this Lean initiative and was one of a few operators who understood this new way of working.

Sue had been working in this new approach to management for about 6 months. She and her team had made great progress. Prior to the lean transformation, Aria—the 12th person in line—would have waited for her latte at least 15 minutes, precious time away from her daughter that she would not have been able to spare.

Sue was seeing more and more people come in early in the morning and her business was beginning to grow. She could tell that because her team was better able to perform the work, they were able to service the customers in a consistent way at a predictable pace.

Later that day, Sue’s manager was attending a performance calibration meeting. It was that time of year to come together and rate everyone’s performance in order to build plans for the upcoming business year and allocate budgeted merit increase dollars. The managers would also be talking about the capabilities that the team members were displaying and deciding who was in succession planning and who was not.

When Sue’s manager was updating the others on Sue’s performance—her ability to facilitate problem solving and therefore prepare multiple team members to take on the next level of responsibility—the comments were met with resistance.

Others in the room had not yet experienced the improvement work from the lean transformation and questioned the true performance, as Sue’s reported numbers were not significantly better than her peers, though growing at a better rate. Sue’s manager tried to explain to the others how her productivity had increased greatly; that the customer service metrics had exceeded all of her peers’ and her turnover had dropped by 20%. The others were still using the traditional performance measures to award performance increases and develop people support systems.

The others on the team stood firm in their traditional resolve and allocated a minimum merit increase to Sue. Her manager was told to go back and continue to work more with Sue to get her metrics in line; and they would wait to see what happened next year. They also decided Sue was not yet ready to be placed on the succession planning, noted in the 9 box as a high potential.

Sue’s manager, feeling defeated, turned to the Human Resource Director who oversaw the area where Sue and her manager worked.

The Human Resource Director, Ben, partnered with Sue’s manager and they began to go out on GEMBA walks together, visiting Sue in her store and learning how her team made a latte.

Ben met Aria when—as she was taking her daughter home from the hospital—she stopped in to recognize Sue and her team for “saving” her while she was going through such a tough time.

As Ben became more familiar with how the business worked and how the Lean Transformation had impacted the people who do the value creating work, things really began to change.

In partnership, Ben and Sue’s manager developed new core competencies and influenced a change in the performance review process. This impacted succession planning and the company’s engagement scores.

Through their partnership, the organization learned how interdependent the two roles were in the strategic platform for the business. This drove greater results for the business over the following two years than they had ever achieved before.

Sue, now Director of Operations, continues to build and develop future leaders for the organization. She and her Human Resources Director, Jim, consistently mentor and coach others on how to develop people systems that lead to exceeding the business objectives.

Lean Transformations begin with a problem to solve and the value-creating work of the organization = Operations

The value-creating work is done by People = Human Resources

Without an aligned understanding and an interdependent business partnership between Operations and Human Resources, acting in service to the value creating workers of the organization, Lean Transformations can struggle to sustain or achieve the level of business results possible.

“What is needed to enable Human Resources and Operations leaders; to build a business partnership at the onset of a Lean transformation in support of attaining the business objectives?” Comments welcome!

ABOUT THIS POST… This guest blog comes from Karen Gaudet, Director of Learning, LEI. Karen is on the organizing committee and the presentation team for the 2017 Lean People Development Summit, September 11-12, 2017 in beautiful Savannah, GA! See the full agenda.