Two Common HR Practices That Sabotage Lean Initiatives


Our consulting firm has two HR requirements before we'll work with a client:

1. No regular employee will lose their job as a result of improvement activities.

2. No “forced ranking”. This means that there is no ongoing practice for selecting a predetermined number of employees for termination. See the article “The ABCs of Rank and Fire Management” for more about this:

Our team has decided to not work with several prospective clients because of these requirements. Why?

First, we have a conscience. Our mission is to improve the quality of people's work – not take it away.

Second, we're pragmatic. We know from experience that layoffs as a result of improvement activities and forced ranking will sabotage any lean initiative. Creating an environment of fear destroys teamwork, and the process of engaging employees grinds to a halt.

What are your thoughts?

Do you know of a company that practices on-going layoffs or forced ranking, yet also has a successful lean initiative?

Or maybe you have an example of a lean initiative that failed because of these issues?

Mark Edmondson

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Mark Edmondson
Mark Edmondson is passionate about achieving rapid, breakthrough results during a company’s lean transformation. With 30 years of front-line experience while working with over 80 companies, Mr. Edmondson developed a philosophy of helping companies create a culture that sustains operational excellence through low cost yet transformative changes.


  1. Yes, I currently work for a company that is “implementing” lean, yet they still do layoffs every quarter in an attempt to hit the numbers. I don’t think that’s the biggest of our problems, though. Leadership is generally poor and not really driving lean anyway.

  2. While having a conscience is nice, it doesn’t have anything to do with the problem of a company that does rank-and-fire.

    The root problem is that lean relies on an organization where employees are making decisions that benefit the company and share their knowledge whenever applicable. With rank-and-fire, that ceases to exist and people turn inward and protective of information in an attempt to maintain relevance in the company. I’ve seen this happen to entire companies and not only spans the “marginal” workers, but the “exceptional” workers as well.

    It also impacts hiring choices – a healthy team is excited about bringing on someone who is better than themselves. A rank-and-fire judged team will fight the hiring process every time.


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