With the recession, there are more talented people competing for lean jobs. And the companies that are hiring want those people to improve their bottom line quickly.
That is what I gained from a recent conversation with Ted Stiles, director of executive search for Stiles Associates, a search firm specializing in filling lean jobs.
The conventional wisdom is that lean skills should be more in demand in tough times, though in the current severe downturn, even a firm like Stiles is not completely immune. “We’re off a little, but certainly not nearly as bad as a lot of other search firms that don’t specialize in these types of lean experts,” Ted said.
The types of jobs his company helps fill have not changed, he added, and include experts to lead entire programs or facilitate change.
However, there is a shift in what the hiring companies want these people to do.
“What these folks are focusing on now is a little different,” he notes. “There is not a whole lot of talk about culture change. The shift has definitely turned to focus on cost cutting and cash generation. The players and levels are the same; what they’re working on is different. Inventory reduction as well, and they are also focusing on process improvement around some of the business process areas – payables and receivables, shortening that cycle – anything that hits the bottom line.”
The best lean companies understand that tough times are a great opportunity to use lean experts to improve operations. However, some of the many companies that are laying off employees are not sparing their lean people, Ted notes.
“In general, if you look at the lean universe, at least a quarter of the folks are cutting lean folks outright. This is the paradox,” he comments. “I don’t think we’ve seen a lean talent shift like this in the history of lean’s presence in the
“It’s moments like this that really separate the true believers from lip-service lean. That’s clearly happening right now.”
But one company’s desperation can be another company’s opportunity.
Ted observes, “There are a surprising number of companies that are viewing this as a rare opportunity to go after talent that has heretofore been unavailable… Some very good lean folks are hitting the markets right now that would typically not be available.”
How should a company cope with tough times? “If I were in an organization and had anything to do with an operations excellence program, this is clearly the time to make sure you have demonstrable results and a hard dollar ROI that folks in the finance dept can understand,” according to Ted. “Without that, over the next 12 months, you’re just going to run into a lot of pressure.”
And for candidates, he says, “I think with everybody focused on cost cutting, those candidates that can articulate and demonstrate hard ROI results will rise to the top or find more interest. There are people in the lean community that really, deeply understand how to manage transformational culture change, and that story isn’t selling as well as cost results.
“I don’t want to suggest that the market is responding to hatchet men. There is going to be some of that. But within what I would call the sensible lean universe, there is going to be a shift to programs and projects that work around cash preservation and cash generation, and generating cash from inventory.”