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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Start with the person and learn with them

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: Sunday, March 16, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Let’s look at this differently: let’s not start by wondering how to most efficiently organize temp labor, but let’s start from the fact that temporary workers are persons, just like any one else that works in the firm. Temporary workers are an essential part of the lean system because they help us be more flexible to volume variations no one knows how to handle internally. Temporary workers add value. Temporary workers are either forced by the circumstances of not having a full time job and then accepting a temporary position in the hope of getting that job, or, and I’ve met many, actually like the freedom of being a temporary worker – for a number of personal reasons.

Questions are: first, the temp is there and needs to produce at standard. Can they do that? Have they been trained? Second, volume is down so we should let go of temporary workers – how do they feel about this?

Where this fits with lean starting with the recognition that there is no single story and we need to take each temporary worker on their own merits and their own aspirations. First, we need to understand what they’re seeking with accepting the job – a permanent position? A stop-gap job? A new experience? Quick cash? Every time I’ve been involved in that kind of exercise, I’ve been surprised by the huge variety of responses. One can argue that people are not likely to give honest responses to such questions, and we certainly had that in mind, but over time you sort of take people at face value – if you know how to listen.

Next, they need to be producing value quickly, both for you and for them. But how quickly is that? In one plant we’ve asked every area manager to come up with his or her personal plant to integrate temporary workers, and we were surprised to see that needs differed quite a bit as managers organized temporary work differently. In some cases, workers would be integrated in the production line so had to be trained quickly – dojo style. In other cases, such as with highly skilled jobs such as paint, they would be asked to help with all that needs to doing to keep a paint plant running tops – a lot of cleaning, and moving stuff.

We might have different opinions on how the manager makes use of temporary work, but in every case we’ve found that asking the manager to take care in specific ways of their temp’s integration led to much better results if we also let them the initiative of choosing for what and how.

What happens if volume goes down? The worse disaster I’ve seen if when the idiot head of Finance decides to cut all temporary workers – no questions asked. Sure, that makes the budget number but also completely screws up the business. Again, this has to be a person to person basis, there are no general answers. Temporary workers who were diligently seeking full time employment have been identified and if they show a promise we like, they will stay until the situation get really desperate. Others will be let go immediately. The point is that this needs to be planned in a person-by-person basis, taking care of the individual experience and wishes of the person.

And not be done in a rush. Make-the-numbers mentality pushed you to cut all costs to pass the year-end and then rehire all you can when you’ve stopped delivering. That’s just plain silly (and mean). On the other hand, my lean experience is that every time we’ve been asked to reduce temporary work we’ve found areas of the value stream where slack has accumulated with no good reason and it has given us opportunities to develop in-house flexibility and eliminate waste. So reducing temporary work every so often to fit volume is not a bad things in absolutes. The challenge is how respectfully will you go about it?

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