Engaging employees has always been the big question in regards to business management.
Many companies promote great analysts to leadership positions, but as we all know just because they are great analysts doesn’t mean they know how to lead.
Unfortunately if this action is done without providing any tools to help this leader be more effective, it can became an evident mistake and frustrate many employees devastating productivity.
In my experience, I truly believe leadership is key to boost performance. 10% of the employees will always be demotivated, another 10% will always be motivated no matter the context, but the 80% of the personnel will perform depending on the leadership ability to engage them to do it, but there are three tools that can boost this ability no matter the leader.
Now let me tell you the story of two different leaders. We were implementing 5S in a well-known company with more than 200 employees. 5S is a Japanese methodology part of the Lean Six Sigma toolbox for workplace organization, which looks like only housekeeping but actually can change the culture of an organization and achieve higher levels of productivity and employee engagement.
Even though we were looking forward to training all the employees in the new methodology, the plan was to start implementing it first with a pilot team.
The pilot team that was chosen was formed of two production lines that were similar and shared some work areas, as they were located next to the other. Every activity was delivered with both teams at the same time. We were two trainers, so in order to avoid any bias in the training method, we used to switch the team every week, so that we were both the same amount of time with each line.
Go and see
At the very beginning, the X line had reservations with the activities we proposed. After the introductory training we organized like an internal audit or “5S hunting session”, that is, employees should go to their workplace and look for improvement opportunities. It was like an adhoc brainstorming session, instead of just remembering what went wrong they were there to actually see how the other shift was working. The X line had wrote as many as 50 findings, but they were reluctant about the methodology itself. They felt very confident about their current process and didn’t believe this was going to help.
The Y line didn’t say a word, just wrote the improvement opportunities and promised to work on them. Observation in the GEMBA, aka in the real workplace is the first key.
In our implementation method the second key is to have an implementation plan, it’s our management tool. So we requested the team, including the facilitators who managed the three shifts and the tops, who lead each of the shifts, to fill in an implementation plan template that we provided with the findings after the hunting session. The implementation plan included sector, sub-sector, problem, solution, responsible, estimated finish time, progress, actual finishing time and comments.
We had two more months of implementation, where we were delivering trainings more specific for each of the first three S (sort, set in order and shine) and following up on the progress of the plan.
Through time we discovered that line X workers were more and more motivated. Even though at first time were more reluctant, they were working a lot on most of the tasks: sorting needed from unneeded staff (what you need vs what you want to have), painting, organizing tools, classifying rubbish. Every time we delivered a training session we asked for the plan to review it, and there it was, with a lot of work in progress.
On the other hand, Line Y was not making any progress. We were auditing the lines every month and seeing no big changes. We pushed the Y line employees to start working on the items they had brought up, but every time they insisted the facilitator had not given them the plan during the week, the facilitator had changed the items, or he ws not supporting them. Bottom line, the work was not being done.
We insisted on focusing on the plan, and taking a closer look at it, the plan was not completely defined, they had find at first 100 items to work on but there were only 40 of them, most of the tasks didn’t have a clear responsible or estimated finishing date, and many had a vague description like “clean” or “organize”, instead of “organize tools for x machine and throw away obsolete ones”. The plan was now a good indicator of progress and employee engagement, as we could see percentage of tasks done, participation of the employees by responsible percentage of past due tasks. The auditing process was also showing that X line was a bit ahead of y line.
We started to share plans across teams so that would compare how they were working, we asked the X line to comment on how they were making progress and why. Basically they were all working together. Every employee proposed changes, proposed solutions, implement some of them while the facilitator was updating the plan and providing support for the activities that were out of the team scope. They were always talking about “us” and “we”, no matter who actually had finished the item. They were also very conscious about cross-shifts communication, so that improvements were good for all of them. The line has been deployed into sub-sectors so that every team member was owner of a small part. They were even able to get a deployment map for line Y, so that they can identify their own sub-sectors.
We listened to the Y line team members a lot, acknowledged the problem that the facilitator was not helping, but insisted that if they were together and get things done one by one, they were going to add value, be happier at the workplace and be more productive. We sort of worked as temporary leaders of the project until we got one of the tops to take the lead. That was the time when Line Y realized that change was up to them, they had the power. The items in the plan were just old things that were making it more difficult to work, they were their actual problems, and solving them would remove the root cause to many daily issues that erode their metrics.
Double checking the plan and completing it based on the sub sector map, make them feel owners of their workplace. There was also this sense of “if they can, why can’t we”. As they were next to the other, they could see machines and floors painted like new, signs and tags to organize objects, better productivity metrics, employee’s motivation and management recognition.
The Y line top started to work as the team leader to fill in the gap of the actual facilitator. He started to ask for help and advice from the x team, following up the plan, helping to transform ideas into real changes and checking the actual workplace every day. The troupe started to make progress in the end and the facilitator eventually got on board se well.
Empower you team with Three tools
A method to capture Ideas of the employees that actually get work done, an implementation plan carefully monitored, and a “go and see” culture are three powerful tools that every company must facilitate to their leaders successfully engage employees. Usually people are willing to be owners and collaborate to improve their own workplace. Now more than ever the youngest employees, called millennials (Y generation or those who were born between 1982 and 1995) are eager to be free to think and propose ideas, so you need to give them the chance to do it. Engaged employees are clearly more productive, more innovative and generate less costs. 5S is a very effective methodology to provide all these three items. How do you engage your team?