Your Lean Job in a Recession: Do More, Cut Costs, Hope to Avoid Layoffs

If you have responsibility for implementing lean initiatives at your company, you may be expected to do more in this recession. But even lean jobs are not safe; some will be eliminated, particularly at larger firms.

Those are some of the insights I came away with from the recently-released Lean Leadership Survey conducted by Stiles Associates, an executive recruiting firm specializing in lean jobs.

The findings are the results of an online survey conducted earlier this year. Stiles Associates sent email invitations to companies to complete the survey. There were 524 completed surveys from a wide range of manufacturing companies of varying sizes, with most surveys completed by people at various levels of management.

The vast majority of those responding believe their improvement initiatives have been effective (to varying degrees) in helping them achieve their objectives. Slightly more than half said they expect an increased number of improvement projects this year, while about a quarter expect the number to decrease.

But less than a third of the companies said they expect to increase the size of their improvement staff, which means there will be a greater burden on those who remain. Another third expect to cut at least some of their improvement staff.

Not surprisingly, the top priority for 71 percent of those surveyed is cost-cutting. Large firms are the most pessimistic. Nearly 40 percent of companies with at least $1 billion in revenue anticipate spending less on operational improvements, while the figure is only 27 percent for companies with revenue up to $100 million. (About 33 percent of companies with revenue in between those two groups expect lower improvement spending.)

Long-term commitment pays off: The longer a company has been pursuing improvements, the higher they rated the effectiveness of those efforts.

Some of the more intriguing responses came when the survey asked what the priorities should be for the new federal government position of Chief Performance Officer, created by President Obama.

The top priority, chosen by nearly 61 percent of respondents, is to establish transparent and objective performance and productivity measures. That was followed by:

  • Focus on streamlining a few model departments to set an example for other areas of government (49 percent)
  • Train all federal employees to recognize waste and give them the tools to improve administrative processes (42 percent)
  • Engender a plan-do-check-act problem-solving culture (38 percent)

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