Exploring Lean Corporations: “Simplify, Standardize, Automate”


The idea of a “lean corporation” isn’t new. Though the term is used to describe many start-up and high-tech firms today, Lean has long been used in reference to the manufacturing principles of the automaker Toyota.  By removing wasteful, inefficient practices throughout their production and supply chains, Toyota has historically been able to minimize costs to their customers—making them the textbook case for Lean. But as we all know, Toyota isn’t the only company that seeks greater efficiency for economic benefit these days.  So what does it mean for businesses to be truly Lean, and how does Lean impact the learning and training environment in those companies?


Adopting Lean at Bayer

Last year, Greg Babe of Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) wrote a piece for the Harvard Business review that answers many of those questions.  When Babe was “blindsided” by his company’s global executives with a proposal to shut down the company’s North American headquarters, he used it as an opportunity to leverage Lean for the benefit of the entire company.

Instead of cutting overhead and laying off employees to cut costs (which caused “short-term pain with no long-term gain”), Babe invested in strategies and systems that would bring genuine, sustainable efficiency to his company.  He adopted a “simplify, standardize, automate” model that has been adopted across BMS’s multinational enterprise, where cost-reduction comes from creating more efficient internal systems and outsourcing when it makes sense.

One of the most interesting things I took away from the Bayer case was the role that learning and training played in their transition to Lean.  Babe listed investment in employee training as one of the three most important shifts that brought greater efficiency to the company, which included vast re-training of employees for new roles. In addition, Babe’s greatest regret during the adoption of these new policies was that plans to improve leadership training fell by the wayside. It is his hope that BMS will improve its internal talent management program in order to retain top-preforming employees and continue on their new, Lean trajectory. How Can Your Company Go Lean? As we can learn from the Bayer case, Lean principles aren’t focused simply on cutting costs. Instead, Lean is defined by practices such as simplifying systems that contain inefficiencies and equipping employees with the knowledge they need to deliver optimal value to the customer.

From where I sit, it seems that Lean can be adopted by companies of all sizes that are willing adopt sustainable practices, even if it means making initial investments to do so. Of course, we at Blackboard believe that consistent delivery of corporate training is a critical part of streamlining the learning process, keeping important knowledge at employees’ fingertips and at the point of need. Whether your company needs onboarding support for new employees or enhanced leadership training, we are excited to find new ways to help your company go Lean through investments in enhanced corporate learning.