What the Federal Government and Toyota Have in Common
Budget crunches, recruitment challenges, and knowledge loss as experienced employees retire—these together can sound like a recipe for disaster, yet history shows they can be a groundswell for innovation and increased productivity. The automotive industry—the Toyota Production System in particular, which influenced the famous NUMMI plant—demonstrates how pinching resources drives creativity and spurs innovation.
In our recent Federal government change management survey completed in partnership with Human Capital Media, participants indicated that the three biggest factors driving change—budget uncertainty, challenges retaining and recruiting talent, and retirement—indicated a common squeeze associated with the drivers: increased workload for individual employees.
A familiar example is the IRS, whose leadership has long voiced concern over budget and staffing cuts and the strain of increased workloads. Budget cuts, staff reductions, and retirement all contributed to increased workload which employees—and taxpayers—felt in very real ways.
Increased workloads due to budget and staffing constraints places pressure on leaders and individual contributors alike. This strain decreases morale, productivity, retention, and productivity. It doesn’t have to be bleak, however: agencies who successfully manage increased workload find efficiencies, invest in employee knowledge, and ultimately become more lean.
“Lean” organizations do more with less, building processes that are more efficient which is key to effectively managing the increased workload employees face.
A classic model of lean operations, the Toyota approach eliminates waste in areas such as:
- Unnecessary transport
- Excess inventory
- Worker motion
- Overprocessing or overengineering
- Wait times
Small opportunities to be lean include placing commonly used resources (supplies, filing cabinets, forms) in a central location to make them quicker to access, or finding out what time of day your team’s productivity peaks and avoiding meetings during that time. Bigger opportunities should be systemic—allocating decision-making to those closest to the work, or redesigning processes that have become too complicated over the decades. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is revising hiring practices to become more efficient—drawing on the Toyota philosophy in concrete ways such as collecting input from coworkers most impacted by the hiring process.
The misconception sometimes persists that lean applies to manufacturing or software development. As a Harvard Business Review analysis demonstrates, lean operations deliver results in knowledge or service industries, too (which is much of the Federal government).
Federal agencies can and should use multiple strategies to manage change. In addition to collaborating with HR, leaning on your HR business partner to design your organization effectively and implement a good succession plan, use budget and staffing change drivers as an opportunity to innovate and create ways to be lean and come out ahead of the change.
As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” we can adapt this adage for change management and budget cuts: “When the going gets lean, the lean get going.” A smaller staff or tighter budget might initially raise concerns about decreased services, but they present pivotal opportunities to innovate and develop new, improved processes for Federal organizations.