Is it “Our Company” or “Their Company”?

By on January 24, 2017
Is it “Our Company” or “Their Company”?

We were having a very vigorous discussion during our 5S team meeting. We were focused on actions that needed to be taken to increase compliance with 5S standards. Over and over again I noticed that a number of team members used the term “their company” rather than “our company.” A few said “our company” but for most it was “their company.”

One of the first things I listen for when working with a new client is how their employees refer to the company for which they work. If they refer to it as “our company,” that tells me one thing, if they say “their company” that tells me something very different.

I’ve heard far too many employees say “their company.”

So what’s the difference between saying “their company” and saying “our company”? In terms of the individual’s sense of attachment to the company, the difference is huge. Saying “their company” communicates loud and clear that employees feel detached from the company. Saying “our company” says they see themselves as an integral part of the company, a member of the team.

And does feeling that one is a member of the team as opposed to simply being a detached spectator make a difference in performance? You bet it does. It makes a big difference.

“Their company” employees have a greatly diminished commitment to quality work. Why would they have anything else? They’re not really interested in whether or not the work they do is productive or profitable. Why would they be anything else? After all, the company they’re working for is just an entity that gives them a check every two weeks. And if a better offer came along they’d leave in a second. The deal is simple. I put in hours and they pay me.

“Our company” employees have a commitment to doing quality work. They have a commitment to thinking about ways to improve productivity and profitability. They understand that there is a very tangible connection between their personal success and the success of their company. They also have a strong emotional attachment to the company as well as to their fellow employees. They’re proud to members of the team. The deal is simple. I work hard and I work smart because I want my company, myself, and my teammates to have good futures.

Having employees who think “our company” rather than “their company” has a profound impact on both productivity and profitability.

Can “their company” employees be transformed into “our company” employees? Absolutely. Can it done quickly? No. Is there any reasonable alternative to doing this? None that I can think of if a company intends to remain competitive in the 21st century marketplace.

So how do you do it? For starters, here are my recommendations:

  • The company’s leaders need to be seen by line workers. Every day members of the leadership team should walk through areas where products are made or services delivered, asking employees how their day is going, asking if they have any ideas on how to improve productivity. Listening to what they say. Talking with them. Thanking them for their suggestions. Letting them know the company’s future depends not only on their work but also on their ideas about ways to improve productivity.
  • Line workers need to see evidence every day that the company values their thinking. Since transforming “their company” thinking into “our company” thinking is to drive a profound change in the way workers think, drivers of this transformation need to be continually in view. The Idea Board is a very powerful, well-tested process for doing this. Watch our video containing interviews with clients of ours, talking about the power of the Idea Board.
  • Reward and recognition methods should be used to motivate exemplary performance. Methods used can vary from formal programs with rule structures and reward systems to simpler methods involving written feedback from the company’s leadership team, managers, and supervisors. Both work and can deliver a substantial ROI. With both methods, the bottom line is this: Nothing drives “our company” thinking better than getting personal feedback from the company that says “we value you.”
  • On a regular basis, line workers should be provided training to increase their ability to be active contributors to increasing productivity and profitability. Many line workers have told me they really appreciate the training they receive and believe the company is providing it because it values them as employees. And I’ve heard very different comments from employees who have hardly ever been provided training by their employer. Here’s what one line worker told me, “If the company cared anything about us they’d give us some training on how to do our work. All they did is send me to the line and tell me to watch how it’s done and to just start doing it.

I’ll never forget a comment made to me over ten years ago by a member of a client’s 5S team. His name was Kevin and with tears in his eyes he said: “Do you know, George, this is the first time in twenty-five years that anyone has asked me what I think.” I told him we cared a lot about his ideas and looked forward to his being an active contributor to the work of the 5S team. Later, as I drove home, I said to myself, “What a tragedy on a personal level and what a loss to my client because Kevin’s a bright guy and for a long time he could have been a major contributor to the company’s bottom line.But now he will be. The company Kevin worked for was on the verge of becoming “our company.”

St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group has a wide variety of training and consulting resources that can transform “their company” workers into “our company” thinkers. And when this happens you’ll be appreciating a much improved ROI on your company’s most valuable asset, the knowledge and creativity of your employees. Let’s get together and talk about how our resources can be put to work for you in driving this transformation. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. I know you’ll find it time very well spent.

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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