Regardless of your current situation, whether your management team doubts the need for CI efforts or its credibility suffers due to ineffective CI efforts in the past, success still depends on continuous improvement and employee development and involvement as the primary means of responding to changes in customer expectations and other business challenges. To respond effectively, organizations must encourage all employees to actively participate in and grow with the changes that must be made. Acknowledge the obstacles of the past and get started!
Individuals, Obstacles and Critical Mass
As we assess organizations, the clear majority of people we encounter at the value adding levels would welcome the opportunity to improve their work-lives and their company. So why isn’t it easier? Even knowing that a culture change is desirable to most employees, culture change can be a scary and foreign concept. We’ve always done it this way? We’re doing alright aren’t we? What do you mean I need to change? Haven’t I been doing a good job all this time? Harnessing the human potential of the individuals, one by one, and focusing the on improvement will result in a critical mass of energized and mobilized employees with a shared sense of urgency, improved morale and reduced turnover.
What to Expect and the Approach
It is essential that the company develop an attitude of “how can we do a better job?” in its employees. If the company assumes, and correctly so, that its employees are the key to implementing and sustaining improvements, then its primary goal must be to re-engage employees – one by one in the business and to empower them and to develop their skills so they can improve the things they have control over.
Short-term, companies may experience some growing pains regarding involving employees. Some employees may feel that if their idea is not adopted or it doesn’t work as planned, that the company is simply paying the concept of continuous improvement lip service. In addition, if the activities do not pay immediate dividends, management may be tempted to think that “this stuff doesn’t work”. It is critical that the company stay the course and continue the effort through the tough times.
Long-term however, through the formal effort required to make continuous improvement a way of life, the company will experience a cultural shift and will see the workforce becoming more involved and more interested in their daily work lives.
An approach to making a continuous improvement culture a reality is to aggressively encourage participation in project work identified in your strategic initiatives. Look for early adopters and opinion leaders. Then, coach them relentlessly while allowing them the space for constructive struggle. The company must engage its employees at all levels by communicating the change case, involving employees from all levels in scheduled kaizen events, establishing daily participation expectations and creating floor level metrics that show whether expectations are being met. By creating significant change with the affected employees, and by being successful, the tipping point will be met!