The 8 Wastes of Lean: Part 8 – Skill Underutilisation

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It’s sometimes described as the worst form of waste a company can generate. Not properly using your employees’ skills and abilities, not properly training them, or not properly engaging them is one of the easiest ways to drop the overall value of your business. Employees are the most valuable asset of any workplace – don’t let yours fall victim to the last of the 8 Wastes, Skill Underutilisation.

What is it?

Skill underutilisation occurs when employees are not able to use their full skillset and reach their full potential in their role. This may be due to restrictions placed, lack of training, or lack of resources. The real waste of this is that frontline workers – who often have the most restrictions placed on them by management and policies – are usually in the best position to put forward new ideas, improvements and learn new skills.

How do you identify Skill Underutilisation?

  • Talk to your employees. This may seem simple, but it’s easy to forget. Chat with them about their roles, any ideas they have, any training they want or need, and whether they feel like there are areas they could be contributing to further.
  • Look out for any signs of unmotivated workers. Anyone who feels like they’re working beneath their skill level is unlikely to give 100% – anyone who seems to be slacking off may actually have a lot more to offer.
  • Look at your company policies and management intervention. Do your managers need to sign off on small or routine tasks? Do you have policies to allow for ideas generation, and regular discussions? Do you have any restrictive policies that prevent employees from working freely, and if so, are these necessary?

You may notice that you have employees who are very capable of working beyond their current level of work, or vastly improving their current tasks, and taking advantage of this could be a huge boost to your business.

How can you improve this in your business?

  • Empower your workers. Let them make their own decisions. This ties in with the other seven wastes we’ve discussed – if you’ve built a solid foundation with standardised policies, there should be very little need for management to intervene.
  • Deliver valuable training to all your employees. Improving on current skills, teaching new skills and training them in Continuous Improvement are the best ways to ensure there’s no wasted potential.
  • Regularly engage with workers on all levels of your business. Walking around and chatting with employees is one of the simplest and most effective ways to understand problems and points of success, and to gauge new ideas. Have a policy where employees are able to offer up suggestions for any part of the business, and discuss the ideas at regular team meetings, or at weekly huddles. You may be surprised at where some of the best ideas come from.

How can you sustain this practice?

Make sure your improvements are locked into official company policies, and review them regularly. This will ensure the improvements are standardised across your business, and changes in staffing won’t undo the hard work. It’s important to keep reviewing the policies – there may be areas where training needs to be revised, or some restriction needs to be reinstated. Most importantly, there are always further improvements to be made, and new staff to contribute further ideas, so a continuous review system should be used.

Once this waste has been reduced within your business, you’ll see more confident and motivated employees, and have more free time across the board. New ideas will come forward, and your overall business value will increase – all by simply utilising your current workforce.

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