I’m blessed to have been recruited to work in the field of Customer Experience. I came to the practice of CX via Process Engineering (Lean Six Sigma, or LSS). Using PE to better our CX is an incredibly fulfilling use of a legacy approach to improving what we do. Years ago, before I was involved in CX, I saw how, sadly, PE was often used to ‘find efficiencies’, which usually meant looking for redundancies and people to fire. Back in the day, I mortified my then-boss when I posted the following article to my professional network about why that’s a bad idea. Somehow it didn’t get me in trouble (too much). I recently re-read it, gave it some buffing, and present it to you here today. Plenty of organizations still use PE organically simply to reduce resource use and eliminate waste in their business processes; a noble endeavor as well. Regrettably, the trend still exists to cut people as a spoil of those improvements. For those who aren’t yet using PE for CX purposes, perhaps this can still resonate with you. Enjoy.
One of the things my colleagues and I emphasize when we educate our partners about Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement is that it shouldn’t be used to reduce headcount. Some managers and executives I train think that new-found capacity after a process improvement is made is a good opportunity to draw down. Here are two important reasons why that’s a very bad idea:
1. You Can Only Do It Once. One of the best things about Lean and Six Sigma is that Continuous Improvement is just that: Continuous. And not just LSS…most every approach to process improvement is deliberately depicted as a cycle that starts again at the beginning once you’ve improved. That’s because wise business leaders are always looking for the edge and how to move their organizations ahead of their competitors, which entails continuously searching for efficiencies and ways to improve their processes.
But if an organization uses Lean Six Sigma (or any other process improvement method) to enable headcount reduction, who in that group is going to have the appetite to give it another go after seeing heads roll the first time around?
Think about it: Say you are part of a group that used Lean Six Sigma to streamline and improve your processes this year. Then 20% of your organization is laid off ‘thanks to these great efficiencies we’ve realized due to our Process Improvement efforts.’ How difficult will it be to engage your (remaining) teammates next year to improve your processes using LSS? Human nature and the tendency toward self-preservation (“I may be the one who gets the axe this time around.”) will dissuade many would-be participants. Good luck, they’ll all be hiding under the furniture. Goodbye continuous improvement, and say goodbye to the edge over your competitors you thought you just secured.
2. Why Dump Your Most Valuable Resources? Would you give away your trademarks and patents? How about your proprietary documents or client lists? Then why offload the most precious of your resources? (And, considering through exit packages it costs money to lay people off, why pay to lose these resources?)
Nothing is more valuable to you than the human capital you have right in your organization. After all, you hired your people, and you know their strengths and weaknesses. You know what they’re capable of and how best to deploy them to your organization’s benefit.
And now they have extra capacity…
So why not use that to open up new opportunities? Why not allow them to innovate? Challenge them to develop new ways to end-run around your competitors, incentivize them to create, to further improve, to broaden their own capabilities for the better of the organization, and to better serve your Customers. Imagine what you would do with more time and resources. Guess what, you’ve got it now. Don’t throw it away.
Use these newly-freed-up resources to make your organization better at what it does and branch out into other new things you could be doing.
Now, naturally, there are people within your organization who should probably go. Nobody’s perfect, and not everybody belongs everywhere. Personnel decisions are tough and sometimes need to be made. But basing them on simple bean-counting through the spoils of a successful Continuous Improvement effort is doubly bad for your team.