8 Ways to Get Total Involvement

Posted on 4 Jun 2009 by The Manufacturer

Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei explores some routes to optimum employee engagement.

In any company-wide continuous effort there are various levels and degrees of employee engagement. In a true high performance work culture we should aim for total involvement in daily improvement activities. Although we say “less is more” in many aspects of lean this is a case where more is more. In fact just as we aim for zero when it comes to things that are bad such as accidents, defects and other waste we should aim for “all” or “total” when it comes to things that are good such as 5S, quality management and kaizen. How do we get total involvement from our people in the good things? Here are 8 ways:

1. Teams. People work better when working close to other people. We are social animals who thrive on communication and cooperation. A practical first step to total involvement is to start small and local. It may be too much to expect one thousand people to all agree and engage fully in a common goal right away, but we can achieve this in the short term with groups of five to ten fairly easily. Encouragement aids engagement, as peer recognition for accomplishment is as important if not more important than monetary or other extrinsic rewards in the long run.

2. Uniforms. Simplifying and standardizing how we present ourselves not only removes superficial differences that distract us from what we have in common, but also remind us that we are coming to work for a reason. Just as personal protection equipment is necessary for working with machinery, diving gear is necessary for diving and lab coats are needed in the lab, a basic uniform helps people be mindful that they are choosing to be involved in whatever they are doing.

In fact there may even be health benefits to wearing uniforms. A number of recent studies showing that the way we think about how old or young we are has actual physical benefits. One study mentioned in a Newsweek article titled Just Say No to Aging? extended the research to people who wear uniforms:

Most people try to dress appropriately for their age, so clothing in effect becomes a cue for ingrained attitudes about age. But what if this cue disappeared? Langer decided to study people who routinely wear uniforms as part of their work life, and compare them with people who dress in street clothes. She found that people who wear uniforms missed fewer days owing to illness or injury, had fewer doctors’ visits and hospitalizations, and had fewer chronic diseases–even though they all had the same socioeconomic status.

3. Stand up meetings. Successful teams form the habit of meeting to review the game plan before the start of the day and review it at least once during or near the end of the day. This speeds up communication, nips any problems in the bud and reinforces the goal of the shared work of the team. The team meeting is the most basic act of total involvement. Any organization claiming to aim for total involvement or to practice lean must have teams that hold regular brief meetings.

4. Cross training and job rotation. Total involvement means never saying “that is not my job”. Team members who can provide mutual assistance to others require knowledge and skill of the work of others. This is developed through cross training and job rotation. The benefits of cross training are immense, both in terms of hard savings and soft savings, and include flexibility, job satisfaction, exposure of problems, improved quality and of course reduced cost. To get total involvement, give people more to do.

Putting on a uniform, team up, train hard and start the game in a huddle. So far it sounds like sports. The secret to a winning team is a combination of people who come to play for the same goal, communicate well during the course of play, and are led by captains and coaches: total involvement. The player who doesn’t demonstrate this… doesn’t play much, or for long.

A few of the most popular ways that lean organizations get total involvement rely on these activities, systems or tools:

5. Cleaning. The high performance workplace should be clean and well-organized by design and through discipline. This should not be the result of heroic daily efforts at cleaning. While daily 5 to 15 minute clean up times may be the way to start this practice, clever managers target these minutes for “savings” or to increase capacity, resulting in not only more clutter but damaged morale due to eroding involvement, and ultimately lower performance.

A more effective practice of cleaning is to make 5S a natural part of the work cycle so everyone can “clean as you go”. Processes should be designed for ease of putting things back, picking things up, and sweeping things away periodically with an emphasis on always eliminating the need to clean through root cause countermeasures. Total involvement is again the key – making sure that cleanliness is not the janitor’s job part part of everyone’s habit.

6. Suggestions systems. The basic creative unit in an organization is the human mind. Every person has one of these. Too often they are underutilized at work. Properly designed to encourage small, local, practical improvements towards eliminating variation, overburden and waste, the suggestion system is the best single way to get total involvement. People have found various pitfalls to step into with suggestion schemes over the years, but those who have not shied away from building a proper suggestion scheme are rewarded with upwards of one idea implemented per month per employee for years on end.

7. TPM. We could say that Total Productive Maintenance is a highly specific and concrete application of the lean thinking and principles, focused on making the most effective use of production equipment. The term TPM predates the term “lean” and incorporates many of the concepts and tools of lean. It was a marriage of preventive maintenance disciplines with TQM (Total Quality Management) and has evolved over the years, expanding reach into administrative and management areas. At the heart of TPM is teamwork, the development of people and total involvement in improving safety, quality, delivery and cost. Due to its highly structured and focused nature, whenever appropriate TPM should be implemented towards a lean operation with total involvement.

8. Policy deployment. Known also as hoshin kanri, hoshin planning, strategy deployment or simply goal alignment aims to set a few significant targets and then use a down-up-down deployment process by which conversations take place on how each team at each level in the organization will support the achievement of these goals. Combined with a built-in PDCA process for corrective action and learning, policy deployment may be the most powerful management discipline available to us today. In essence policy deployment is the systematic application of kaizen to management and planning. Under policy deployment, everyone is involved in building the success of their company and thereby creating their own future.

It’s not an accident that 4 of the 8 ways involve people and organizations and the other half involve specific improvement methods and tools. Half of more of long-term success in practicing lean depends on the organizational design. If you aren’t working towards total involvement, you probably won’t succeed with lean long-term. If you keep total involvement as part of your True North on the journey to lean you will have a good chance of success.

By Jon Miller of Gemba Research and Gemba Panta Rei blog.

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