Employee Participation in a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder, authors of the influential 2006 book Ideas Are Free, have recently released a new book, entitled The Idea-Driven Organization: Unlocking the Power in Bottom-Up Ideas. This is a book that will be helpful and inspiring for our KaiNexus customers regardless of their previous experience with innovation and improvement methodologies like Kaizen (one of the key methods discussed in the book).
The book promises a methodology that can be used for creating a culture of continuous improvement. The authors are right in saying that it's easier to describe what a culture of continuous improvement looks like than it is to create that culture out of nothing.
Robinson and Schroeder say that:
"80 percent of an organization’s potential for improvement lies in front-line ideas."
I agree with that very strongly. Yes, there's a role for new product (or service line) development teams – specialized innovation teams. But, KaiNexus customers realize that the organization does better when everybody brings forward "opportunities for improvement."
Instead of traditional "top down" innovation, in which leaders define what needs to be improved and how to improve it, idea-driven organizations are both top-down and bottom-up. As Robinson and Schroeder say, "idea-driven organizations are directed from the top but are driven by ideas from the bottom."
KaiNexus supports bottom-up improvement, of course, and there are also key features that allow leaders to help create alignment in the organization's collective improvement work. Leaders can issue a "challenge" through the KaiNexus platform that staff can respond to, encouraging employee participation. Leaders will direct what types of improvements need to happen, such as asking employees to focus on safety, and employees will tell them how by entering OIs into KaiNexus. KaiNexus can also be configured to help align completed OIs to strategic goals and initiatives at local or organization-wide levels.
The first chapter of The Idea-Driven Organization features a hotel in Stockholm that averages one idea per person per week. The hotel teaches staff how to identify problems and opportunities:
"For example, every time a guest complains, asks a question, or seems confused, staff members do all they can to fully understand the issue. If staffers have an idea to address the issue, they enter it into a special computer application. If not, they enter just the raw problem. Each department has a weekly idea meeting to review its ideas and problems, and decide on the actions it wants to take on each of them."
They don't disclose what that "special computer application" is, but it sounds exactly like it works the way KaiNexus software does!
The authors say there are multiple keys to a successful continuous improvement approach, including the first three:
- "First, the ideas are responding to problems and opportunities that are easily seen by the bar staff, but not so readily by their managers."
This is why everybody has to be involved in improvement. Managers or improvement experts need the help of front-line staff to see and understand everything.
- "Second, most of the ideas are small and straightforward. They don’t require much work to analyze and are inexpensive to implement."
We see this with our KaiNexus customers. There are many small OIs, some larger events, and a few much larger projects. They can all be managed in KaiNexus.
- "Third, the ideas are neither scattershot nor self-serving. They systematically drive performance improvement in key strategic areas for the hotel. They improve customer service, increase productivity, and make the bar a better place to work—in many cases doing all three at the same time."
Yes, we also see this with our KaiNexus customers. Bottom up improvement is good, but aligned improvement with a purpose is better than "scattershot [or] self-serving."
Please check out this important book and let us know what you think!