The Waste of Human Potential

architecture-768432_1920The waste of human potential is often described as the eighth waste of lean (in addition to the seven we’ve previously covered). The waste of human potential is likely the most costly form of waste in most companies today.

Human potential is wasted when employers have employees do meaningless tasks and functions (such as with the waste of over processing or transportation).

In popular culture, there’s a work satisfaction story (allegedly based on a real study–I couldn’t find it for this) where a group of volunteers were paid money to dig a hole and then fill it back in at the end of the day. The next day, they would be paid double what they were paid the first day. The third day, double that, and so on. Well, by the fifth day, no one showed up, even though they would have been getting paid tremendously more than they were willing to do something on the first day.

This is the waste of human potential in action.

Your employees want to be doing meaningful work that adds value to another human, requires skill and expertise, and pushes them to be more creative and to come up with innovative solutions.

Most of us in our companies aren’t digging ditches and refilling them. Instead, we can get tangled up in bureaucratic processes, stuck in queues, and spend lots of time doing activities that are for the sake of our organization (not necessarily the customer).

But human potential can be wasted in more than just ditch digging and refilling. Human potential is wasted when we don’t properly develop and train employees to achieve their given potential within a function. A great many employees would likely be significantly better off with a marginal amount of investment from their organization in their development and growth. Doing this benefits both the individual and the organization (though there are real trade-offs in the short-term). When an organization makes it its mission to make each one of their employees the best versions of themselves, those employees will respond by making the organization the best version of itself.

One additional way that we waste human potential is in note getting people’s ideas and feedback. This can be extremely damaging. Your people working on the front lines of your organization are the heart and soul of your value creation for your customer. They know the processes and what works and doesn’t work better than anyone else. If you don’t take the time to regularly get out and see them performing their work and capturing their ideas for making the place better, you’re going to waste a significant amount of waste-reducing and value-creating ideas.

One example of this: I was recently at a Mexican restaurant where I watched the bartender frantically race to and from the kitchen at least thirty times an hour. The kitchen was all the way across the restaurant from the bar, so the walk was quite far. She had to go there every time she needed to get chips, salsa, entrees, and most anything. So much wasted movement and motion.  And in the meantime, service at the bar wasn’t that good, because she spent most of her time walking and not at the bar (so drinks sat empty and the company missed out on revenue).

I couldn’t help but ask the bartender, who was clearly frustrated and overworked.

“Excuse me, but I’m an efficiency nerd. Has anyone ever suggested to management to move the chips and salsa closer to the bar, so you don’t have to walk so far to get them?”

Bartender: [Super loud sigh] “We’ve made so many suggestions to management. They never listen.”

Me: “It just seems you spend too much time walking back and forth to get chips and salsa.”

Bartender: “There’s plenty of room. They could put it right here.” [Motions to counter space on bar]

Me: “It seems crazy not to.”

Bartender: [Another loud sigh] “I’m so over it. I don’t even care anymore.”

How often do businesses make employees not care anymore by not listening to their suggestions? How many years of people’s lives do we waste doing tasks that don’t create value?

How much human potential do we waste each day?

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