We know that 80% of the improvement potential in any organization lies in the frontline staff. After all, the people who actually perform the work of the business day in and day out are the ones best able to identify failings in the processes and opportunities to improve. Managers and senior leaders can come up with improvements that align with the organization's mission and goals, sure, but they don't know the nitty-gritty details of the daily work like their employees do. That's why it's so crucial to get every person at every level of the organization involved in improvement.
"In our organization, our employees have two jobs - to do their work, and to improve their work."
- Karen Kiel-Rosser, VP of Quality at Mary Greeley Medical Center.
A company with a solid culture of continuous improvement has created an environment in which employees feel safe coming forward to admit their mistakes, identify process problems, call out safety issues, and suggest improvements to anything and everything. This type of culture requires nurturing, though. Managers must devote time to coaching employees on thinking through small, incremental solutions to their problems, check in often to discuss the progress of improvement initiatives, and prompt employees to think deeply about their daily work.
Here's a list of questions managers can use to get the wheels turning, encourage employees to identify opportunities for improvement, and empower people to make changes to their work.
What's something about your job that bugs you?
This is probably the easiest way to get employees to open up about potential opportunities for improvement. Everyone has something in their day that bugs them. Perhaps they hate how meetings clog their schedule and leave little time for actually doing the work - bringing this issue to the forefront may result in an improvement of scheduling a couple hours per day to be meeting-free to increase productivity. Maybe they hate that they have to walk all the way across the office to throw their trash away - a pretty simple fix, once the problem is identified.
Asking people to share what bugs them makes them feel valued and heard at work, empowers them to implement improvements, and reduces small problems that make people less productive and happy in their daily work. A win-win-win!
How could you save 5 minutes per day?
If you walk up to an employee and ask them how to increase organizational efficiency, their default answer will probably be "I don't know." That's an intimidating question, and managers all-too-often make participating in improvement seem daunting and complicated. The odds that any given person will unearth an idea that saves the company millions of dollars are slim, and people know it - so they don't even try.
By framing the question as "How could you save 5 minutes per day," you bring home the point that kaizens are small and incremental. If every employee could identify a way to save 5 minutes per day, and share those ideas with other people, the time savings of each idea would compound across the organization. Whether their ideas are to move a printer, better organize files, or upgrade slow-running software, ideas that save 5 minutes a day will require a small investment and have a big return.
Why did a mistake happen?
When a mistake is made at work, it's important to look for a process problem rather than blaming the person right off the bat. For example, here at KaiNexus, we have a regular webinar series. We want all of our team to attend the webinars whenever possible because they're excellent learning opportunities for all of us - but we frequently miss them. Rather than cracking down on people when we noticed low attendance rates, we asked why - and discovered that people were forgetting to register in advance and then couldn't log into the webinar on time. Our solution? Instead of telling people yet again to register in advance, we added a notification to the calendar event to go out the day before the webinar prompting our team to register.
All of that is to say that when there's a problem, asking "why" gets you to the root of the problem, where a solution can be implemented for maximum impact.
These are just a few questions you can ask to increase engagement in kaizen in your organization. By asking these questions, you're showing people that you're interested in hearing what they have to say, you're invested in making them happier and healthier, and that you're interested in real improvement.
What questions have you found to be useful to increase engagement in kaizen?