Lean employees. Lean managers. Poor managers often see things in a different way. Leaders are focused on meeting customer service requirements and hitting targets. Continual improvement teams can become overwhelmed by constant change and unending demands. It is easy to forget that employees who are motivated and engaged have higher morale and are more productive. Maximizing Lean success requires balancing the needs of employees and the bottom line.
Do you remember Mark Twain’s book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? One hot summer day, Tom Sawyer was forced to whitewash his aunt’s long picket fencing. Mr Twain is a better storyteller than I am, but the basic plot is the same. Tom’s friends walk by Tom all morning and offer their sympathy to the young man who is still using the brush. Tom refuses to share in the joy of painting the fence, despite his friends’ sympathy. To cut a long story, Tom had collected many payments from his friends to share in the chore. He received a kite and marbles, a brass doorknob and a dog collar. And, for some odd reason, a dead rodent on a string. (Don’t ask me how I don’t understand that one).
To get your team to engage in continuous improvement (any effort that does more with less), it is essential to remember the same lessons Tom learned. Your employees must be motivated to take part. The most important four letters of continuous improvement are WIFM. What’s in it?
Tom convinced the children passing by that painting was enjoyable. They did the work for Tom and paid him. While his friends may be happy at the moment, the reader will know that Tom did the same for his friends. Why? They were not able to reap any long-term benefits from completing the task.
Continuous improvement is a good thing for your company, provided you do it right. It can be difficult for employees to see the benefits of Lean, even though they hear about how great it is. They often end up doing the same thing as everyone else if they don’t see the value in Lean.
These eight tips will help you engage your team in your Lean environment.
1. Listen to your frontline employees.
The reaction of your staff can make or break your continuous improvement efforts. Find out what they are most excited about and what are their most significant concerns. Knowing what your employees think could come back to bite you later.
2. Recognize the fact that everyone is unique
Each person has different needs. It is not possible to satisfy all your employees’ needs with one set of benefits. It is a mistake to try and meet all of your employees’ needs with a single set of benefits. Are they looking for more overtime or less? Are they more flexible or prefer a set schedule? Are they more open to variety or choose structure? Your improvement projects should be aligned so that the company is closer to its goals and your employees can get more of what they desire.
3. Do not assume that corporate goals will inspire your team.
While everyone wants to be successful in their jobs, not all team members will be as excited about inventory turns and working capital reductions as you are. Some may not even know what these terms mean. The desire to see the company succeed is partly tied to job security, the desire to have an annual raise, and the recognition that if it fails, the belt will be tightened. How will employees’ lives be improved if the company does well? Demonstrate it.
4. Take care of the negative stuff.
Do not paint a picture that isn’t true to the reality of your employees. Some teams had it easier before Lean. Standard Work, for example, might reduce downtime. Employees are often resentful and resistant when Lean removes something they value. It is not the right time to convince them Lean is good. Accept that Lean can make some things more complex, and then concentrate on the good stuff.
5. Be sincere and realistic.
You can crush the commitment of your team if you have high expectations and they never come true. They will try to do their best, but they won’t see the end result. This will make it harder for your team to accept future changes.
6. Offer timely and pertinent training.
Employees can’t support something they don’t understand. Training helps your team know what to expect, and it reduces feelings of helplessness in the face of constant change. Lean training gives them an opportunity to experience the benefits of Lean.
7. You can control the pace.
Employees will struggle to see the benefits of continuous improvement when the company is constantly in crisis. People shouldn’t be sprinting down the halls like they are on fire at the end of each month, nor should teams be rushing to get every customer order. While it is okay to do this once in a while, teams won’t be willing or able to make an effort to improve their performance over time. If the company is constantly on the edge of its envelope, there’s no point in making improvements. Employees must see the possibility of progress. A frantic pace can obscure that glimmer.
8. Establish relationships.
Employees are most important in their relationships with their bosses and coworkers. You can help them to build and maintain relationships with their bosses and coworkers so that they are motivated to do Lean work. Continuous improvement efforts should not pit teams against one another or create hostile conditions.
These tips will help you show your employees the benefits of continuous improvement. Your Lean success will be a lot easier if your employees are engaged in your efforts.