Recently I’ve been getting lots of requests on how I am able to motivate a work force to actively participate in improvement initiatives. I do understand why people have asked me this question, but to me, it’s really a simple thing to do. It is my belief that most workers come to work wanting to do a good job. In most cases, people come to work wanting to share their ideas on how to do their jobs better so as to produce a better product or deliver a better service. So if this is true, what prevents their ideas from being implemented?
Part of the problem is the “division of labor” that exists within many companies. Now what on earth do I mean by this? In many companies that I have visited, there are slogans posted that proclaim total employee involvement, but when I dig deeper and talk to the employees, I find that these slogans are hollow rhetoric. Yes there are group photos posted everywhere depicting the teams that are in place, but are they really “teams”? My idea of a team is that everyone is free to contribute equally. Yet, when I talk to the actual team members in the photos, they tell me that their opinions on what to do….their ideas…..are often shrugged off or discarded. I’m told that there is a clear distinction between “management” and “hourly” workers. This apparent division of labor is one of the key reasons why so many teams simply never move off the dime so to speak.
So what’s the solution here? We spend lots of time building teams that don’t produce results and then we repeat the cycle, somehow believing that this new team will be better, but most of the time they aren’t. To me, it all boils down to who really knows how to improve the process. If we’re in a manufacturing facility, the true subject matter experts are typically not the leadership. Most leaders haven’t ever run a machine or even tested a product, but somehow we think we know more than the people that do so every day. The true subject matter experts are the people building the product or delivering the service, not the people managing them.
To me, the solution to the motivation problem is freeing the workforce from their management shackles and listening to their ideas and how to implement them. My teams are always populated by at least seventy percent hourly employees. Why? Because these people know how to do things better than I ever will. I simply define the end state that I’m looking for and then turn them loose to define the template. And believe it or not, they very seldom, if ever, fail to deliver a better process. They know where the waste is and they know where the variation is and they have great ideas on how to reduce. The end result is a much improved process and a highly motivated workforce.
I know this approach might sound overly simplistic, but there are conditions that go with this approach that must be followed. First and foremost, whatever the team comes up with, you must be willing to use. Of course, if there are things that can’t be done, things that violate run conditions or specifications, the team needs to be made aware of them so their solution takes them into account. If the team develops the solution, I promise you it will work. Their personal credibility is on the line here, so losing is not an option. The second thing that needs to happen is this team needs to be the ones that present their solution to the rest of the work force. They need to be the trainers and question-answerers for everyone. The pride that is demonstrated becomes contagious and others will want to be a part of their own team. Some members of the leadership team won’t be able to let go of the division of labor that I spoke of earlier, but at the end of the day…..they must. Try it….you won’t be disappointed.