What do I do with extra resources as a result of improvement without laying them off?

One of the most important things you can do to have a successful culture of improvement is to remove any fear of job loss.

It is highly recommended that the top leadership make a commitment that no jobs will be lost due to improvement work.

What should a company do when they free up resources, and don’t have anything for them to do?

Here are a couple suggestions to consider for how to redeploy resources:

  • Add more value to your customers
    • Visit your customers and see how they use your products and services. This will help you identify ways in which you are falling short of providing value for them, or you might see some innovative ways you can add more value to make their work easier. This can open up new products or services that they’ll be willing to pay for, or increase customer satisfaction of existing products and services (creating opportunities to bid on future work).
  • Redeploy to an area that is short on resources or in need of help
    • Sometimes we work in silos and don’t realize that a little swapping of people could address two problems. One area is short on people, and another area is overstaffed, yet they don’t communicate enough to realize this. Of course, the skill set needs to match, so sometimes the person who is freed up won’t be the same person that goes to a different group.
    • You can also absorb additional growth and customer demand without adding the same amount of resources. Utilize these freed-up resources and capacity where you might have been hesitant to commit to it in the past.
  • Slow down the work pace to increase quality and customer service
    • You might find that when people have the time to do their job, they do a much better job than when stressed or pressured to go too fast. Allow them the time to think clearly about their work, do the task more carefully and with better results, and to think about ways to make the work better (2 second lean)
  • Take your best people and create a “flex team” to fill in for absences each day
    • If you know you are always having 1-2 people gone per day unplanned, the flex team could be deployed in that area to fill in and keep the work flowing and the customers happy. They would be experienced people who get paid a little extra for their flexibility and skill set. They might even work different shifts each day if they’re really flexible.
  • Use the extra resource to continue making process improvements
    • You could take the resource and coach, mentor and develop them into the improvement expert who would get trained on Lean and Six Sigma, and continue eliminating waste in that area. They could also be moved to another area to help them make improvements, since they have some experience with improvements already. Again, it doesn’t have to be the actual freed up resource that takes this role. Maybe a high potential worker takes on that role, and the freed up person back fills that person’s job.
    • Don’t forget about all of your staff. Just because they are not going to be experts in process improvement doesn’t mean they cannot continue to learn, expand their skills, and practicing improving their work. Invest in their training and provide opportunities to get more involved with improvement activities inside and outside your organization.
    • Look at your to-do list and backlog of improvement ideas, and assign these to some of your freed-up resources. It’s best to determine what they like, and find some tasks that match their skill set and passions.
    • For some employees, you might use this time to help them develop and move closer to their career goals and desires (even if it means they might leave your department). Employees that know that their career development is important to their management actually stick around longer and are more productive.
  • Move the resources earlier in the value stream to prevent future problems
    • For example, when a new product line or service is added to the workflow, they could be used to identify potential problems for the workers before it is fully implemented into the process. In manufacturing, this is your new product introduction team. Or they could be sent to work with suppliers or customers to better understand their needs, or provide support and feedback during the early stages of the new product/service.
  • Reduce paid and unpaid overtime
    • Working longer hours can help in the short term, but can have negative impacts to morale, productivity and stress in the long term. As improvements are made, a similar reduction in allowed overtime should be aligned with these improvements. This also will help identify if new problems are being found, or if the past improvements are not working. This helps the employees enjoy a better work-life balance, and feel refreshed and ready to do productive work when they come back from time off.
  • As people leave through attrition or retirement (voluntary), use extra resources to replace them right away
    • This would require cross-training them for different roles in the organization until these opportunities arise, but it’s a great way to be proactive, and not have to react when someone suddenly quits, wins the lottery or has long-term disability.
    • Cross-training is a great way to fill the gap with workers who have some free time, especially when an entire person isn’t freed up, only part of their time. This also works well when there are problems in an organization that bring the process to a halt temporarily, instead of working around the problem just to keep people busy. You also increase job satisfaction with learning new skills and breaking up the repetitive work. This builds up a flexible and agile team that can more closely ebb and flow with the demands of your customers.
  • Bring back work that was previously outsourced
    • If you outsourced work previously, consider bringing that work back into the organization to create more work opportunities and reduce long-term costs, delays, and work-in-progress (WIP).
  • Build stronger relationships inside and outside your organization
    • Reach out to your regulatory agencies (local, state/territory, national, etc) proactively to make those relationships stronger. Relationships with suppliers and key business partners should be enhanced to increase communication and potential opportunities to improve. Don’t forget about your internal customers and suppliers (inside the organization) that will make the work flow more smoothly. Understanding the challenges that are being uncovered upstream and downstream can help you identify ways to improve. Finally, work across the organization to build relationships with similar departments across your organization for knowledge and best practice sharing, collaboration and alignment.
  • Reduce contractor and temporary staff positions
    • If you don’t have any additional options from above, before reducing full-time staff, review all of your part-time and temporary staff to see if there is opportunity to move the work to the full-time staff first. I’ve seen companies automatically cancel all contractor and temporary staff positions, which is a big mistake. You need to understand the risks of these positions first.
  • Give your workers a valuable break
    • Instead of constantly looking to leverage every savings, why not consider giving your workers more free time. Ideas include paid time off, more maternity/paternity leave benefits, more flexibility for work-life balance, allowing for fitness and workout time during paid hours, meditation, or team building exercises. These seem like costs to the organization, but the benefits can be very powerful (although hard to measure).

The general philosophy for process improvement should be to take on more work (increase sales and growth) without adding any additional resources. The best way to do this is to go talk to your customers and ask them if there are tasks or services you can do for them to make their life easier (since you have the capacity to do that now).

If you do have to layoff people for economic reasons or due to the loss of a major customer, make sure the messaging isn’t related to process improvement. There needs to be a clear distinction between economic conditions and process improvement. Otherwise, it could be perceived that the layoff was related to the improvement, and you can imagine how that would really hamper any future Lean and Six Sigma activity you want to start…

What other ways have you utilized resources from an improvement activity?


Want to learn more about Lean and Six Sigma tools, and apply them to an improvement projects? Check out these low-cost online courses and certification programs



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