I am way behind on a couple of great blogs I saw on the Harvard Business Review Blog. One of them is Get Your Workers to Disrupt Their Jobs by Brad Power.
The blog is about engaging employees to improve their processes.
…start process innovation by asking front-line workers how to improve their jobs. Competition and customer demands mean that the most efficient and effective process should always be sought — but finding it requires contributions from the people doing the work. The benefits of the front-line driving improvements include pride of ownership that sustains the changes, less worry for managers about whether the changes will be adopted, and reduced costs for outside consultants. Changes that are imposed are at best accepted grudgingly and at worst sabotaged.
Bingo! I think Brad nailed it well. Then a friend of his asked a good question that I have also gotten in the past.
But a friend was skeptical that workers will identify radical, cross-functional changes to a process that will step on others’ turf or could eliminate their jobs. Is it really possible he asked, to create the conditions where workers will disrupt or even eliminate their jobs and the jobs of co-workers?
Short answer is yes, if there is no fear of losing their jobs do to continuous improvement. I have worked for companies that have made that promise and it has worked to engage the people. When I worked for an automotive supplier, three employees came to management and said they could get the work cell from 3 people to 1 person and meet the demand. The management said do it. It worked beautifully and the other two people were assigned to other work cells that needed help.
Brad got the same opinion from Orry Fuime.
Consider Wiremold, a manufacturer of cable management systems. In 1992 the company was in cost-cutting mode, and, as former CFO Orry Fiumetold me, it was consequently offering an early retirement package designed to reduce headcount. But the company also needed to make its processes more productive, and didn’t want employees overly focused on headcount reduction, so immediately following Fiume’s announcement, the new CEO Art Byrne told employees that nobody would lose employment due to process improvement activities. He felt this was necessary to encourage employees to identify all the changes the company needed, including those which might disrupt their jobs. W. Edwards Deming, the guru of total quality management, called this “driving out fear.”
But most CEOs will strenuously resist making a qualified job guarantee like Art Byrne. Why? Because they believe that nobody can guarantee employment. Notice, however, that Wiremold did not guarantee employment. It assured employees that they would not lose their job as a result of their participation in continuous improvement activities. It didn’t say their jobs wouldn’t change, or that the company wouldn’t lay off people for survival in the event of a major economic downturn, or that individuals couldn’t lose their job due to poor performance.
I found the blog interesting because all but one company/person mentioned were well respected lean companies/people (Orry, Art Byrne, Dr. Deming, Wiremold, Parker-Hannifin, Lantech). The overriding theme was the respect for people. Ask for their ideas to improve, share the big picture with them don’t hide it, reward them for their help. These all have to do with respecting the people of the business and organization.
I hope this blog gets circulated around. These are the behaviors to look for within a company. These are behaviors a lean company exhibits whether they use the term lean or not is not important. Respecting the people is. With their engagement in the continuous improvement process a company can make great strides in productivity and growth.