The Greatest Waste of All – Human Potential

By on August 12, 2014
The Greatest Waste of All – Human Potential

About ten years ago I was walking through a client’s employee cafeteria when a fellow named Jim who worked on one of the presses came up to me and said, “George, you know all that talk you’ve been doing about how the owner wants our ideas on how to improve work processes. This morning we were having some problems on my press and the owner came out and started to do some work on it. Now I’ve worked on this press for over ten years and knew that what he was doing wouldn’t work so I said, “I think if we tried this, it’d take care of the problem.” He immediately turned toward me, and, in a loud and angry, voice said, “Keep quiet. I pay you to work, not to think.” Jim asked me, “What do you think about this?” I could have said what was probably the truth, that being “The owner doesn’t think you’re smart enough to figure out what’s wrong with the press.” I opted out and said, “He didn’t mean what he said, he was just having a bad day.” As the words were coming out of my mouth, I knew they weren’t true.

If experiences of this sort were rare, one could pass them off as anomalies. They’re not. Over and over again I’ve seen owners display thinly veiled contempt for their line employees. For example, consider Robert, a line employee with over twenty-five years’ experience at a company that makes seats for the automotive industry. Robert was a member of our 5S team and from the beginning of our work he had been a sullen presence in the back of the room. About three months into 5S implementation, the team was discussing a production problem that seemed to be particularly difficult to solve. After the meeting, Robert came up to me and said, “I think I know what the problem is and how to take care of it.” I said, “Great, how about you talk about it at our next 5S team meeting?” He said he’d do it and at our next meeting he came in with a flip chart on which he’d outlined the causes of the problem and how to solve it. He gave a great report. I was astounded. And, by the way, his solution worked and the client estimated it to be worth over $10,000 a year. After the meeting at which he gave his report, Robert came up to me and with tears in his eyes said, “You know this is first time in twenty-five years that anyone ever said to me, ‘Robert, what do you think?’” I thought to myself, what a waste, what a tragedy.

And this greatest of all waste, the waste of human potential, doesn’t have to happen. As Taiichi Ohno, one of the key architects of the Toyota Production System said, “You don’t come to Toyota to work; you come to Toyota to think.” And so it should be with any organization. The most vital contribution any employee can make comes as a result of the application of intellect, not muscles.

And when employees start to really use their minds, like Robert did, does it make a difference on the bottom line? You bet it does, as numerous studies have shown. To only cite one, Gallup’s 2012 State of the American Workplace, landmark research that examined 49,928 work units with 1.4 million employees across 49 industries. This study showed that organizations in the top half regarding employee engagement have double the odds of success in their marketplace when compared to those in the bottom half. Further, those in the 99th percentile have four times the success rate when compared to those in the first percentile.

Driving the Implementation of a Sustainable Lean TransformationHow can the tremendous potential of the human intellect be untapped in your employees? Our Lean Transformations Business Unit has developed a series of extremely effective training and consulting programs that can make this kind of a transformation happen. They’re proven. They’re very cost-effective. I’d very much value having the opportunity to discuss them with you. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. I look forward to talking with you.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.