I have been writing some articles for the Association of Manufacturing Excellence recently around the topic of Lean. While researching the articles, I found that when I bring up the topic of Lean to clients and colleagues, I receive either a response of unbridled enthusiasm, or absolute disdain. Few respond anywhere but at either extreme. Now I’m never curious about the former reaction of excitement, but I’m always interested in what has driven the later response.
Have outcomes not been achieved? Was there a failed project? A wasted investment? An inability to engage employees?
Now, I will admit that I often avoid bringing the term Lean into discussions, for the exact reasons stated above. There is always a risk that the other person has had a bad experience. But with that said, the concept of Lean is still one that should be incorporated into every operation to reduce waste and maximize labor productivity.
So let’s set aside the term “Lean” for just a moment, and focus on the best opportunities that exist for maximizing productivity and ultimately employee engagement,
1. Information is useless in the wrong hands
The smaller the “knowledge” gap between company ownership or senior management and those on the shop floor or in the front lines, the better. Senior management must understand the challenges of the employees, and the employees must understand the direction and strategy of the organization (and the benefits to them in supporting the direction). I have met with several CEO’s who feel it not important to discuss the state of the business with employees in order to avoid impacting morale. Unfortunately their perceptions are false and in fact are resulting in the very outcome (poor morale) that they are trying to avoid.
2. Ideas are only useful if you use them
How do you feel when someone chooses to ignore you or your ideas? If you’re like most people, eventually you just stop offering up ideas or any discussion at all. Well, the best ideas for increasing productivity, reducing waste and maximizing customer value often come from those who actual do the work. This is nothing new. There are few companies that don’t actually offer some form of an employee suggestion program. However enticing employees to offer suggestions for improvement is only successful if you actually consider their ideas, and then implement where it makes sense to do so. The best reward for employee suggestions, and in turn the best way to entice employees to continue to provide new ideas, is to simply implement their past suggestions.
3. Success results from consistency
If sharing information and generating ideas is one of the best means to increase productivity, then achieving results comes from hard work and repetition. Everyone I have spoken with who has a bad taste for Lean in their mouth says the same thing, “It wasn’t working, so we quit.” A project wasn’t finished; communications broke down; meetings ceased. Whatever the intended outcomes of the initiative, they were never achieved and the perception is because the energy and progress that existed initially, quickly diminished. Management blame the employees, the employees blame management. Regardless of the type of improvement you are pursuing, always start small and build on success because success breeds success. Most importantly, never ever stop. Success takes hard work and consistency. If you aren’t committed, don’t start.
So, whether you are a fan of Lean or not, you can improve productivity by simply sharing information across the organization, taking action on employee suggestions and remaining committed and consistent. Simple suggestions, but hard work. I guarantee however the results are worth the effort.
© Shawn Casemore 2013. All rights reserved.
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