Employee Participation Matters.
Over the years I have visited with hundreds of business leadership teams to talk about improvement and innovation. A topic that often comes up during these discussions is how to get employees actively engaged in improvement. My response to this question is always the same:
Employee behavior reflects leadership behavior. If leadership makes innovation and improvement a key priority, employees will get behind that initiative.
Many years ago I worked in a tire factory. The operation was 24x7 and every Monday morning there was a production meeting led by the VP of Operations. Every senior manager was required to attend. The atmosphere was always incredibly tense as production numbers were discussed and managers were put on the spot if their teams were not pulling their weight. As a young engineer, these meetings were my first insight into how a manufacturing plant was run and how managers interacted with one another.
The President of the company also attended these meetings, sitting in the corner and observing. As the meeting unfolded and each manager gave their report, every so often the President would interject to make an observation. Once he said “I was on the floor early this morning talking to Bill Smith about the game last Saturday, and he told me that he discussed with you a better way to load machine 5 that would significantly increase output, and that’s the reason production has been down 15%.”
The key there is that the President of the company took the time to go down to the production floor and listen to the ideas of the employees.
When looking for ways to increase production, the employees doing the work were the people he relied on for insight.
What I learned back then has stuck with me through the years. Good business leaders leave their offices and walk the floor. They get to know every employee on a personal level, and in doing so, show that they care about their employee’s experience, value their contribution and insight, and actively care about involving them in improving the business.
The Role of Technology
Today it is not always possible for executives to meet every employee face to face. This is where technology becomes an invaluable resource to a company seeking to develop a sustainable culture of improvement. Technology can provide a means for every employee, supervisor, and manager to engage in collaboration to innovate and improve the business in cases when ordinarily, such interactions wouldn’t be possible. Today technology can enable teams to do improvement work on their own, and to collaborate with other teams in other divisions in multiple locations.