We wrote a few months ago about the dangerous tendency for manufacturers to rely too much on automation to gain cost savings and competitive advantage. Competitive edges come from innovation and creativity with processes (continual reinvention, if you will). Now we see Toyota agrees: Machines cannot examine processes for improvement nor reinvent themselves. Employees must retain that responsibility and act on it.
Every organization has untapped talent ready to go within the ranks of the people already working there. Most enterprises fail to maximize the contribution from their talent pool because they do not take the simple step of engaging more energetically with their employees. Let's consider the potential that you could unleash if you took steps to engage your employees in innovation and improvement initiatives.
Close managerial observation of subordinates blunts innovation. The creative process of finding new ways to produce products or services is full of trial and error, and production workers are hesistant to do that sort of experimentation when "management is watching" for fear of being caught breaking the rules. Research by a Harvard professor now finds evidence that productivity may rise and innovation blossom if management can back off a bit on how they keep tabs on "how it is going!"
McKinsey hits the nail on the head in a recent online article when they say effective leadership development “saves time and money.” It does. If you create transformational leaders who can deeply engage and energize their teams to contribute at a high level, and direct that energy in a focused direction (aligned, passionate action), your organization will thrive without having to invest in expensive “fixes” like Lean or Six Sigma programs. However, most organizations do not achieve the goal of effectively developing a great cadre of leaders, so McKinsey set out to find out why. After a long round of executive interviews, the results are in: Lack of Context, Decoupling Reflection from Real Work (classroom vs. on-the-job training), Ignoring Embedded Mindsets and Failure to Measure Results. We say "bingo" to all four, with an emphasis on the last two.
Workplace safety is not the only area of improvement that occurs from raising employee engagement, but it is one that has huge positive impacts on employee health as well as organizational health, and is usually worth every penny invested in it!
Have you been engaged by your organization in safety initiatives at work? How did they involve you? What was the result?
OSHA violations point to areas of lapse in the safety regimes of organizations nationwide. The annual release of the top cited violations can guide any company to go look for areas of improvement. Our point is, make sure to start with the employees involved. They will have better solutions already in mind than the managers involved, and are probably sitting on them and not sharing because these employees are not fully engaged in the company's mission. Safety records improve almost magically once an organization truly emphasizes employee engagement.
Rewarding a year's worth of employee effort and results with a token of your esteem seems like a good idea. And you should do it, as the gesture is always appreciated, if your recognition is targeted, timely and genuine. However, the best gifts are evergreen: You give them all day, every day as a leader: Dignity, Support, and Connection, among others. These cost you nothing more than time, and if you give them constantly, the need for the annual gift in December becomes a lot less critical, and doesn't have to be a dramatic, all encompassing gesture to make up for a year's worth of leaderly inattention!
A case study about GE Appliances by the Lean Enterprise Institute highlights the critical need for intensive employee engagement to make process improvement work. All players in a successful enterprise (Sales, Executives, Operations, et al.) can create an organization that better meets the needs of its target customers through constant and intensive collaboration. We have seen this work time and again. Why more organizations don't engage with their talent base boggles our mind.
One of the great success factors in building employee engagement is the gradual build-up of what we at Bovo-Tighe call Unshakable Trust between co-workers. One manifestation of this is the willingness of senior managers to trust front-line workers with the authority to improve the customer experience on the spot. Bain's Rob Markey is quoted supporting this view in a recent HBS report commissioned by Achievers, an HR technology firm. Markey's input was the highlight of the report for us.
A recent survey by Flexjobs found that flexible work schedules is both important to employees, and for the company. Survey respondents report that better control over when they work would raise loyalty to the employer. It a notable that 80% of the respondents to this survey were women, which might have skewed the results, but also worth remarking that "family needs" were not the sole reason these women appreciated flexible work schedules.