Yes, I Do Want to Come to Work…

By on September 19, 2018
Yes, I Do Want to Come to Work

In my last article, “Why Do You Come to Work?”, I reflected on an experience I had in a sheltered workshop where I’ve been doing volunteer consulting. It involved a comment made by one of their workers. He said, “Do you know why I come to work?” I responded, “No, why do you?” To which he responded with this beautiful comment “I come to work to do a good job because I want my company to make money.

When I reflected on what he had said, I thought to myself there couldn’t possibly be a better reason for coming to work. This one says it all. Wanting to do a good job. Wanting his company to succeed. Being aware of the relationship between the quality of his work and the success of his company.

And who said this? It was a fellow named Richard. I was observing him at work taking bottles of beer out of cases and repackaging them into six-packs with seasonal themes. He was working with obvious enthusiasm and was intensely focused on what he was doing.

In my last article, I also shared my belief that Richard performed the way he did because of five basic factors, factors that impact employees’ feelings about coming to work, their attitude toward the place in which they work, and their commitment to doing high quality work. Here they are:

  1. Richard’s abilities were fully utilized on the job.
  2. He had very positive interactions with his fellow workers, feeling proud that he was a member of his team.
  3. He was aware of the fit of what he did into the making of the final product.
  4. He believed that what he did had a direct impact on the success of his company.
  5. He got positive feedback from his supervisor.

If we agree that these five issues have a major impact on the way employees (like you and me) view their (our) work, the next question to address is this one.

How do we create a work environment in which employees think the way Richard does?

Here’s my take on this question.

For starters, a company’s leadership team must clearly understand what a Lean transformation is, the beliefs upon which it’s based, and the ways in which their behavior needs to change to be congruent with these beliefs. Their first order of business should be to carefully analyze the degree to which the following qualities are alive and well in their workplace.

  • Respect. Do all employees know that their company has a high degree of respect for their knowledge, intelligence, and creativity? Does the behavior of members of the leadership team consistently and unambiguously demonstrate the respect they have for their employees? Do they show this respect by regularly communicating with line workers? And listening to them? And acting upon what they say?
  • Trust. Do line workers believe they can trust management enough to be completely candid in sharing problems they may be having with production rather than hiding them? Does the company demonstrate the trust they have in their employees by openly sharing financial data with them? Does the leadership team share problems they’re having with line workers?

These two qualities, respect and trust, are the heart of the matter when it comes to creating a workplace in which continuous improvement can happen. Without respect and trust, work process improvements that are made will not be sustainable. The old ways of thinking that created inefficient work processes and work spaces have great staying power and will stand as very potent barriers to continuous improvement.

Obviously, they must be changed. Einstein said, “Things are the way they are because of the way we think.” I don’t think any rational person would disagree with this observation. Unless thinking changes, continuous improvement can’t happen.

So how do we change the way we think? Taiichi Ohno had great advice on how to do this. He said, “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.” And what should the “new ways of acting” look like? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Fully utilizing employees’ abilities on the job.
    Regularly go to the line and ask line employees for their ideas on how to address production problems. Listen carefully to what they say and, when appropriate, act upon what they say. Tell employees what Toyota tells people it hires, “We’re hiring you for two reasons, to think and to work and of the two, thinking is the most important.” Reward employees for their process improvement ideas. Publicize their contributions. Use a tool like the Idea Board to collect employee ideas. Here’ a link to a video with information about this very simple and powerful method of building high degrees of employee engagement.
  2. Creating a workplace in which employees have very positive interactions with their fellow workers, feeling proud that they are members of a team.
    Take steps to create team identities. Have spaces (homes) for individual teams to meet in to discuss work issues, to post charts of accomplishments, photos of team members, photos of important family occasions. Have a designated time each day when the teams can meet in their team homes. At company picnics have games in which teams compete against each other. Have teams name themselves. Let team members select who will be their Team Lead, a person responsible for facilitating their team discussions.
  3. Making employees aware of the entire value stream and the fit of their work in the creation of the final product or delivery of service.
    Do a Value Stream Map of the entire production process beginning with suppliers and ending with external customers. Launch a series of 30-minute all-employee meetings during which this depiction of the production process is explained. Follow up with all employee briefings at which individual teams explain what they do and describe how what they do fits into the entire production process. Post this Value Stream Map in team homes with the portion of the value stream accomplished by the team highlighted.
  4. Having all employees believe that what they do has a direct impact on the success of their company.
    Implement multiple initiatives targeted at making each team acutely aware of the ways in which the quality of their work impacts the quality of the final product or service and, therefore, the success of their company. For example, have customers come in and brief employees on their use of the product or service and talk about how its quality impacts their business. Have the quality control manager explain to teams how their individual work processes impact the quality of the final product. When individuals contribute suggestions on how to improve work processes that are acted upon, in all-employee meetings brief employees on how these suggestions contributed to productivity/product quality/profitability.
  5. Having managers and supervisors give positive feedback to the employees they supervise.
    There’s no more powerful driver of improved performance than getting accolades from supervisors or managers who are respected and who are knowledgeable about the work of employees. When you see employees doing good work, thank them. When you spot employees going above and beyond, give them written feedback, take photos of the employees and put the photos on posters describing the work they did, mounting them in employee break areas or lunchrooms. Use the Toyota KATA process to demonstrate your respect for employee problem-solving abilities while at the same time teaching them how to apply the scientific method in the improvement of production processes. Send notes to employees’ homes, thanking them for their important contributions to the success of the company.

There are many more initiatives an organization could take that will have employees saying, as did Richard, “I come to work to do a good job because I want my company to make money” and to say it with big smiles on their faces.

And the twin values of respect and trust must animate all interactions with employees.

Let’s face it, you and I love to feel respected and nothing energizes us more than being trusted. Take some of the simple steps I’ve described in this article. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by the impact they will have on employee morale and performance.

St. Louis Community College’s Corporate Services Group has a wide variety of training and coaching services that will drive the changes this article describes. We’d like to meet with you to review these resources. Just call George Friesen (314-303-0612) or Eric Whitehead (314-539-5022) and let’s arrange a time to meet. We think 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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