The Incredible Power of “What do you think?” and “Thank you”

By on September 2, 2015
The Incredible Power of “Thank you”

Two of the most consistent comments I hear when I talk with line workers in manufacturing plants are “Why didn’t they ask us what we think?” and “It’d sure be nice to hear ‘thank you’ sometimes.” I’ve shared these comments with managers and gotten a wide variety of responses. Here’s a sampling:

“Thanks for letting me know about this. I know it’s important to let people know when they’re doing a good job but I’ve just been too busy to spend time on the floor.”

“They get paid a salary, don’t they? The salary they get is our way of saying ‘Thank you’.”

“I’ve asked them for their thoughts before and never got any good responses.”

“You wouldn’t hear those comments from most of my workers. Most of those folks just want to clock in, do their work, and go home.”

Unhappily, comments of this type are heard all too often although their frequency is diminishing. The managerial “old thought” they represent drives bad decision-making, decreased employee engagement, decreased productivity and finally, decreased profitability. They’re very bad news.

Here are just two examples of the impact of “old thought.”

It’s 1986 in an automotive assembly plant in Detroit. I was there as part of a team helping the plant implement a system that would result in all employees contributing ideas about how to improve productivity. As I introduced the program to a group of first-level supervisors, a participant in the group said, “It sure would have been good if we had this program a year ago.” I asked why, and he said, “Because then we might not have spent $6,000,000 on a piece of equipment that we’ll never be able to use on the line.” He continued, “The engineers who ordered this equipment never bothered to talk to us about how it would work on the line. If they had, we would have told them that it wouldn’t work.”

All it would have taken to have saved $6,000,000 is “What do you think?”

Fast forward 20 years to 2006. The manufacturing plant I’m doing Lean consulting and training in is having ongoing problems with a piece of equipment on a bottling line. Maintenance employees fix it and two weeks later, it’s broken. And the cycle continues. After six months, a veteran employee who works on this line says to one of the maintenance workers, “I think I know what the problem is.” He did. It worked. Problem solved.

All it would have taken to have prevented six months of fractured productivity is “What do you think?”

The Incredible Power of “What do you think?” and “Thank you”

And, if the manager says “Thank you” after hearing the response to “What do you think?” and does this consistently, a cycle of creative thinking will be triggered that over time will have a dramatic impact on productivity and profitability.

In Lean Language this ongoing cycle of creative thinking is called “Kaizen Thinking” and it’s the engine that drives Lean manufacturing.

Let’s look again at these comments I’ve heard managers make:

“Thanks for letting me know about this. I know it’s important to let people know when they’re doing a good job but I’ve just been too busy to spend time on the floor.”

If you want to be successful as a plant manager you’ve got to spend time on the floor, talking with front-line employees. That’s how you’ll really learn about what’s happening in your plant and if you don’t know what’s happening in your plant you can’t possibly be an effective plant manager.

“They get paid a salary, don’t they? The salary they get is our way of saying ‘Thank you’.”

If salary was the prime driver of high performance, your employees would be 100% engaged now. It isn’t, and they aren’t.

“I’ve asked them for their thoughts before and never got any good responses.”

How do you measure “good”? Does “good” mean “agrees with what I think”? If this is the case, here are a couple of thing to think about:

First, the fact that you’re getting responses from your employees is more important than the content of their responses.

Second, to drive the spirit and reality of continuous improvement in your plant, it’s important that some line worker ideas be tested even if you think your solutions would be better.

“You wouldn’t hear those comments from most of my workers. Most of those folks just want to clock in, do their work, and go home.”

Not true. Many of your employees may act like they’re just going through the motions, but they’re looking for a lot more from life, a big part of which is spent in your plant.

What do you think?” and “Thank you” have incredible power.

The Corporate Services Group of St. Louis Community College has a wide variety of training and consulting services that will help your managers and supervisors put to work the power of “What do you think?” and “Thank you.” When this happens, they’ll be much more capable drivers of increased productivity and profitability.

$6,000,000? Small change compared to the ongoing impact of “What do you think?” and “Thank you.”

I’d like to discuss these resources with you. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk. I look forward to a productive discussion.

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.

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