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Is Your Business Running Too Lean to Be Resilient to A Disaster?

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If you are running a lean business you might want to evaluate – is your business running too lean to be resilent to a disasster?

Running a lean business has become a popular worldwide phenomenon across multiple industries, from startups to fortune 500 organizations, from manufacturers to their suppliers.

While the elimination of waste has been around a long time. The birth of “lean” came about in the 1990’s as a method of waste reduction born from the Toyota Production System (TPS). Lean has also taken on new life in the last 10 years or so. Today you can find topics on Lean Leadership, Lean Management, Lean Analytics, Lean Marketing, Lean Thinking, and even Lean Six Sigma.

Again, much of this deals with the elimination of waste, including waste in the workforce such as wasted skills, under-utilized personnel, their capabilities and inadequate training. Fast forward to today and we see a trend of increasing capacity without adding staff. It is this trend that is leading to the problem of being too lean.

Recently I have worked with several organizations in which a single person represents a whole department and in many cases responsible for multiple critical processes. This isn’t just leading to overworked, overstressed personnel with low morale, it is setting up some of these organizations for an internal crisis and future disruptions.

It is tough enough for many businesses to create and maintain resilience. Adding low staffing levels creates another element of risk that in most cases is being overlooked. Worse yet, many of these same organizations running this lean also have undocumented critical processes, zero cross training or backup personnel to fill in during times when a business process owner is unavailable.

While this can lead to internal crises and disruptions in the short term, it also opens the door and invites potential internal caused disasters. As has been seen in many industrial disasters throughout modern times, it is usually a cascading series of events and failures that build upon one another to create that moment of impact where it becomes irreversible and disaster occurs.

Internal issues aside, external events such as natural disasters, will compound the ability of such organizations to recover. That is not to say that they will not recover, but such organizations will find it more difficult, even with planning to recover before sustaining a significant amount of damage to businesses brand and financials.

How do you prevent running too “Lean” in your workforce?

  1. Clearly document business processes to the point that someone with the same skill sets can follow them and complete the tasks if necessary.
  2. Have the documented processes tested, and tested again for effectiveness.
  3. Evaluate the “leanness” of your workforce.
    • Do you have key critical processes completed by only a single resource?
    • Is critical process knowledge only retained by a single resource?
    • Does a single resource represent an entire department?
  4. Cross-training of resources to handle processes during disruptive events.
  5. Hire and train people to work on multiple and specific critical business processes as assistants (workforce process backups).


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