At first glance, your talent management programs might not seem to have a direct bearing or even connection to your lean initiatives. After all, they're about hiring, setting goals, employee development, performance reviews, succession planning, compensation — all the stuff around workforce management.
Lean is about maximizing customer value while minimizing waste. Unless you're streamlining your talent management processes to make them more efficient, the two don’t seem to be connected.
But there is a fundamental connection, because at its heart, talent management should be about creating and maintaining a workforce culture and focus. And if you want to espouse lean principles and practices in your workplace, you need to engrain them in your culture. Here is how your talent management programs can help.
Align your workforce
One the first ways you can leverage your talent management programs to support your lean initiatives is through goal alignment. Start by setting organizational and/or divisional goals related to lean, and make sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound (SMART).
Then challenge every employee to set at least one individual goal that in some way contributes to achieving an organizational/ divisional lean goal. Ideally, employees should directly link or tie their individual goal to the organizational goal it supports.
This linking serves several purposes. It helps to communicate organizational lean goals to the entire employee population and make them more visible. It gives the employee a larger context for their work and helps them see how they're contributing to your larger lean initiatives. It gives leaders a way of seeing how employees are contributing to the goal so they can identify gaps. And it aligns your workforce.
Of course alignment means nothing without accountability. So it's important to have every employee regularly communicate their progress and the status of their goals, as well as have leaders regularly monitor progress on organizational goals and communicate that and their status to the entire organization.
With this kind of alignment and accountability, you make lean everyone's focus.
Cultivate lean competencies
A lean workplace requires a different mindset or culture — one that is keenly attuned to customer needs and satisfaction, and that looks to continually improve and eliminate waste.
If you capture the behaviors, values and skills that are key to your lean initiatives as core competencies, and then assess and develop these in all your employees through your ongoing performance appraisal process, you gradually build "lean muscle" in the organization.
You may also want to have a complement of lean competencies that can be assigned to employees as job specific competencies to further develop the lean behaviors, skills and values required by their specific roles.
The key here is in the development piece. While including the lean competencies in your performance appraisals and assessing employees' demonstration of them helps with communication and alignment, the real benefit comes when managers assign employees targeted development plans to help them improve their performance of lean competencies and then monitor performance improvements over time. That's how you build your lean culture.
Reward and encourage desired behavior
Your talent management programs are also the chief way you recognize and reward performance, whether it be through feedback and coaching, employee recognition programs, promotions or your compensation program. You need to continually recognize and reward a lean mindset and lean actions, so as to encourage more.
Consider tying a portion of employee compensation to the performance of lean goals and competencies, or to the achievement of lean targets. And make sure your managers and leaders regularly praise and reinforce lean behaviors, actions and results.
Groom lean leadership
Another important way you can leverage talent management to support your lean initiatives is through succession planning. Here we're talking about leadership development as well as the development of high-potential employees in all key areas of the organization.
As you develop and groom high-potential employees for advancement or career progression throughout the organization, make sure you develop their customer focus and all the other behaviors, skills and values you've identified as being key to your lean practices. By "growing" your own lean talent from within, you strengthen the organization and its workforce, and ensure continuity in your culture.
Talent management as a lean tool
Your talent management processes can be valuable tools to help advance your lean initiatives. So don’t forget to leverage them. And while you're at it, make them lean as well.
Sean Conrad has written about Lean and talent management best practices for manufacturers for the Halogen Software blog as well as other industry publications. He's a Certified Human Resource Strategist, a senior product analyst, and a regular speaker and writer.