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Applying lean strategies in the workplace

November 1, 2015

By Lori Stewart, SPHR®, SHRM-SCP, HCS, Partner, Human Resources Consulting

Have you ever admired another person’s ability to effortlessly move through the day, accomplishing task after task, while fitting in numerous activities?   Or have you ever asked your fellow business constituents how they have managed to keep their staff levels the same, while increasing profitability and gaining market share, year after year?  If so, chances are you didn’t hear some well-kept secret that will magically transform your life.   You are more likely to hear a response that pertains to how they manage their time.

Time management/increased efficiency are areas where most of us want to improve.  There are a variety of techniques, tools and training opportunities available; but the challenge seems to be in consistently applying what we’ve been taught.  Applying Lean thinking and techniques in our daily operations is a very basic methodology that may help you get started in the right direction.   While Lean strategies (Six Sigma principles) are typically associated with manufacturing, applying Lean can be effective in all areas of our business.

Lean is the concept of maximizing customer value through increased efficiencies while minimizing waste.  Created by the Japanese, and probably best known as helping Toyota achieve steady growth in the late 1980s, Lean focuses on getting back to the basics.   There are many strategies and tools associated with Lean, but let’s focus on just one concept.

5s is a workplace methodology that aids improved organization in any function of our business by focusing on a list of five words, all beginning in “s.”  Sorting; Setting in Order; Shine; Standardize; Sustain.  If you’ve ever cleaned out your garage or taken a room in your home and de-cluttered; you have probably unknowingly used this technique.  By making this a deliberate process in your business, you will free up time to focus on what matters most; providing your customers value.


Is the first step in cleaning things up to achieve greater organization.  It may mean going through all of the mounds of paper piled around your desk; cleaning out files to ensure that you are only keeping items that are required by law or pertinent to your business today; or cleaning off your desk and drawers so that you are well organized and spending less time searching for items.  In today’s technology world, it may also apply to a cleanup of electronic files so you can eliminate or archive documents; sorting and addressing e-mail; or updating your contact information.

Setting in Order

Is meant to help with flow.  Everything on your desk should have a place; files should be set up in your desk drawer; or an electronic filing system can be established and shared with your team.  This step provides great opportunity for a team exercise so that everyone has buy-in to the selected process that will help with improved workflow.


Will help you keep things cleaned up and organized.  Set weekly time aside to do a quick 15 minute clean up.


Is the creation of a standard way of doing things to improve efficiencies on a daily basis.


Is the forming of the habit to follow the first four (4) steps of 5s’ing.  It is a deliberate focus on practicing the 5s techniques each and every day.

There is nothing more valuable than our time.  By implementing and practicing the 5s Lean principle in your daily life or business, hopefully, there will be less time searching for documents or cleaning out the garage; and more time dedicated to your customers, family and friends!

For more information or assistance, call 888-556-0123, email hrconsulting@hkpayroll.com  or submit our online form.

This article was previously published in the August 2013 Tri-State Business Times.

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