by Craig Corsi, Lean Specialist

Craig Corsi with current Lean Together participate from McShane Welding, Dale Rapela, at a recent session.

One common challenge that many organizations face is the ability to sustain their continuous improvement efforts beyond their initial deployment. One reason for this is the belief that these initiatives must be driven from the top down throughout the organization. Although it is critical that the commitment must be supported 100% by leadership, it does not mean it should be ’owned’ by leadership.

While manufacturing organizations may take different paths for continuous improvement efforts- from Lean Six Sigma to 2 second lean and use of value stream mapping or 5S, a common misstep is that we undervalue the importance of employee engagement. According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 70% of employees are disengaged in their job in the U.S., and the trend is not improving. Why is this? It is hard to come to the realization that we need to loosen the reigns in order to help employees grow. In lean we recognize it is one of the eight major classifications of waste- not utilizing the employee’s knowledge, skills and abilities to their fullest potential.

Investing in human capital is one of the biggest ROIs a company can make. Empowering your employees through continuous training and education; involving them in your improvement efforts; and allowing them to make decisions and ’own’ their successes and failures. Gallup poll statistics show that companies who have engaged and satisfied workforces realize improvements in the following areas; improved profitability (21%), higher productivity (17%), fewer defects (40%), lower absenteeism (41%), lower turnover (59%) and fewer accidents (70%).

So, no matter what path you take for continuous improvement, here are a few key attributes companies have embraced to increase their level of employee engagement (from the shop floor to the office);

Foster Open Communication: Leaders who have achieved results from empowerment are open and transparent with employees. Team collaboration is improved when everyone talks to everyone.

Implement Team Meetings: Gather employees together daily or weekly to share information. Guided by an agenda, discuss the important topics relevant to the company. Use this as an opportunity to educate and engage your employees.

Measure and Improve: Develop pertinent key metrics that are relevant to your employees. Ensure they understand them, how they’re calculated and more importantly how their work behaviors influence them.

Ask Questions: When you ask people about their ideas, you engage them in identifying what to do. This is at the heart of empowerment. For those organizations who have successfully introduced
this concept, their leadership team leads with questions before ever considering what the answers might be.

And, regardless of where your company is at on its lean or continuous improvement journey, take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, “how engaged are our employees in the process”? Chances are, there are some opportunities for improvement.

Craig Corsi is a Lean Specialist with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing operational excellences, supply chain and inventory management, and continuous improvement initiatives and is the facilitator for NWIRC’s Lean Together working group for operational excellence.

Side Note: Craig will be the instructor for upcoming sessions of Lean for the Office and a Lean Champion Series. Check www.nwirc/events for schedule and details.