HBR Writers Are Rediscovering Some Lean Ideas

I always smile a little bit when I see business writers singing the praises of supposedly newly discovered truths that, in fact, have been known for some time to people familiar with lean concepts. The most recent examples are a couple of articles I came across on the website of the Harvard Business Review.

One is by author and economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, discussing research related to her most recent book, Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down (Harvard Business Press). She talks about the importance of having employees engaged.

It's impossible to understate the importance of having a sense of community at work, especially in these turbulent times. After enduring wave after wave of job cuts, plant closings, and corporate bankruptcies, employees uniformly say that what enables them to keep going is being able to talk to others who listen to and understand their concerns.

As an example, she talks about technology company EMC and its use of social networking tools to create an online forum for collaboration and discussion – which led to a wide range of successful cost-saving ideas.

I have no argument with anything Hewlett is saying or with her use of EMC as an example. But I’m not surprised. For years, lean advocates have known the value of employee engagement and how it can be encouraged through cross-functional teams, the sharing of information and other tactics. EMC’s use of social networking is relatively new, but that’s just a tool to support a well-established strategy.

The other article is by Vineet Hayar, CEO of IT services company HCL Technologies. He champions the need for collaboration rather than competition with supply chain partners, particularly customers, to achieve success in today’s marketplace.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, I wrote about it recently in regard to hospitals learning to deal with engaged patients. (That wasn’t exactly what Hayar discusses, but it is a form of collaboration with customers.) And my post was not groundbreaking, but discussing concepts that have been around for a long time.

Hewlett and Hayar promote sound ideas, and that’s a good thing. It would be nice if their work didn’t treat those ideas as new, but gave credit to the thinking – particularly lean thinking – that preceded them.

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