Transparency – Crucial to Engagment

If there is one question that pops up the most during a lean transformation, it is, “How to I get my employees to be more engaged?”  I finally decided to reflect on some of the comparisons of companies that have had great engagement (based on personal experience and reading) versus companies that do not have a great level of engagement (again based on experience and reading).  The one theme that seems to repeat itself over and over again is transparency.

Companies that have good employee engagement are like the old school overhead projector.  All the information is projected up through a transparency so everyone in the room can see it.  When everyone can see it, they can comment on it and add or change it.  The transparency allowed for easy changes by using a marker.  Once the change was made, everyone could see it immediately and agree upon it.  Nothing is hidden.  Everything is visual.  Not hidden in a computer.  Easy to change.

Things to look for to understand if an organization is being transparent are: future plans being shared with the entire workforce and not just the senior staff, financial information (not just cost/part) being shared with the entire staff, and open and honest dialogue about what the organization needs to do in order to improve.  There are several ways I have seen this work.  One of my favorites was the semi-annual employee update.  The plant manager had a meeting with every employee in attendance.  During this meeting he went over the financial performance of the plant, the areas the plant needed to improve upon in order to make the financial standing even stronger, and how lean would help them achieve the improved state.  I found this even more amazing because the plant did not have any employee profit sharing so showing the financial information was a risky move.  It paid off though.  Employees were so engaged they would come to the management team and suggest ideas to eliminate 2 positions in their own 3 position work cell.

Another facility created a visual area.  This area is accessible by every employee.  The area shows the metrics (where they stand and where they need to be).  It also shows the multi-year plan for the facility.  How machines and areas are planned to move, what improvement events are scheduled, and what investments are planned.  The employees know what change to expect and when to expect it.  It helps everyone deal with the change management aspect a little easier.  The employees see the changes coming and can get used to the idea before it is time to change as well as see how it is suppose to help the overall company.  The company does not need to put as much effort into change management because the employees have been better prepared.

I know being this transparent can be a major cultural shift.  Some people are afraid to give up the control they gain by keeping the information closely guarded.  The places that have been able to let go of this orthodox have experienced a great since of freedom as more and more people are able to contribute to the success of the organization.

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Posted on May 28, 2010, in Engagment, Principles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Excellent points all around. While you didn’t relate transparency to helping to sustain lean gains, I think there’s a tie in there as well.

    From a “lean and green” perspective, transparency implies recording and managing the factual basis whether of internal energy use or of supply chain carbon impact. So I think that transparency has implications for the repository of data and information used to back up, support, and (sometimes) defend decisions.

    • Phil, I definitely think there is a tie in with transparency to sustaining lean gains. The transparency allows people to hold each other accountable for doing what they said they were going to do. If I know someone is suppose to fix an issue and they don’t, I can now ask why. If that person doesn’t want to be asked about not fixing the issue, they will be working on it.

      I like your tie to the “lean and green” effort. Making the records more transparent will definitely force companies to take more action.

  2. Great post Matt.
    I agree Transparency is crucial for Lean Transformation. When running a business, this should be a standard practice.

    The question running in my head is, can a company or organization ever be too transparent?

  3. JWDT…Can an organization be too transparent?…it IS an interesting question. I do think at times too much transparency can lead to waste. For example, when leadership decides to pursue a new opportunity and unveils all the details…there’s a tendency for others involved to question certain areas or spend ‘wasted’ time discussing how decisions were made, etc.

    The interesting thought…which enables the LEAST waste? Being very transparent upfront and allowing for all the discussion, OR keeping certain details ‘private’ with the intent of focusing efforts on efficiently pursuing the new goal?

    Matt, you get to the heart of the issue…control. I think the companies that work toward achieving a culture of respect and trust at all levels within the organization are most successful.

    Giving up control and allowing the right people to do the right things at the right times, enables better leveraging of an organization’s strengths and skills. In that context, my opinion is you can NEVER be too transparent.

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