One of the most prevalent concepts in industrial and corporate management is the concept of “lean” production. After carefully analyzing processes, leading manufacturers and producers find ways to eliminate barriers, increase efficiency, reduce waste and the cost of waste, improve the quality of jobs and the performance of people, and generate products that provide greater satisfaction and value.
In this time of great anxiety about the direction of the economy and the search for places to cut costs and make meaningful investment, I am surprised by what seems to be a persistent failure to understand lean principles in knowledge work. Working with some of the largest manufactures, product marketers, and industrial designers, I am amazed by the persistent application of workplace planning standards that have lost relevance, and the refusal to consider investment in approaches that have been proven to deliver higher productivity—that is, engagement, purpose, commitment, satisfaction, innovation and effectiveness.
I understand the resistance to spend. The notion that a more desirable workplace could yield profitable activity is immediately rejected by facilities personnel and project managers whose sole measure these days is (apparent) cost reduction. I believe, however, that this approach, in many cases, actually embeds persistent cost in the organization’s operations and causes repetitive “right-sizing”—the elimination from the portfolio of the knowledge resources that, more appropriately engaged, would yield leadership in the market and in profitability.
I am generally confident that—
- Most people don’t require more than about 30 square feet to perform 80% of their tasks efficiently—but corporate facilities standards persistently give them 2 to 10 times that amount of space
- A high partition surrounding an individual means that individual is not effectively engaged in the purpose and work of the company—if I can’t visually connect with you, waste persists; if your behaviors in the openness interrupt me, you are in the wrong place for what you are doing
- Most valuable work of leading organizations takes place out of the office or cubicle—in my own case, I’ve come to believe that every hour I spend in my office is more than two hours of lost value to my company
- As a corollary, our research shows that individual workspaces are unoccupied 40% to 60% of the day—let’s see…$X per square foot times the workstation standard allocation times 50% effectiveness times how many employees time an effectiveness quotient equals how many dollars in lost space productivity?
- If the only spaces in your organization are labeled “office” and “workstation” and “conference room” you are losing ground in your market—these are about separation and formality in a world that is moved by informality, connectivity, and speed
- If your people are more connected outside of work than in work, you ought to question your management, planning and technology policies—I learn from my colleagues, and then use what I learn to the value of my client and the position of my company
I think that these things matter, measurably—
- Work looks different, now—and so must the workplace
- Openness generates profits—opacity is a sign of fraud
- Socialization yields the majority of corporate innovation
- Focus is a selective activity—collaboration is the dominant activity
- Training is a waste—the casual mentoring conversation is where value is created
In all of this, a lighter (leaner) workplace may be the most effective tool to an accelerated recovery and a sustainable leadership. Strip your workplace of weight and rise up the charts.