See It, Film It, Solve It, Show It: Cambridge Engineering Leans Into ‘Improvement Videos’

Cambridge Engineering employees have logged and shown more than 8,000 improvement videos since company leadership launched the program four years ago.
Cambridge Engineering employees have logged and shown more than 8,000 improvement videos since company leadership launched the program four years ago.

One of the most engaging ways to get employees to “lean into” lean manufacturing may be to encourage them to take factory-floor “improvement videos” with their cell phones and then show them to everybody at the plant.

Cambridge Engineering is showing the way toward this simple conclusion based on human psychology and workplace culture – as well as results. At its factory and headquarters in Chesterfield, Missouri, the 155 employees of the manufacturer of heavy-duty HVAC equipment have logged and shown more than 8,000 improvement videos since company leadership launched the program four years ago. They borrowed the idea from the “2-Second Lean” expert, Paul Akers, and began encouraging folks to start filming.

“We have taken hours out of production to show the videos, but we don’t make it about that,” Marc Braun, president of Cambridge Engineering, told Chief Executive. “We wouldn’t have the level of engagement we have with our employees if we didn’t do the videos. And they learn they can solve problems at work. Without the videos, we lose the chance to observe things every day and opportunities to celebrate” the improvements.

One especially ambitious and improvement-conscious employee, Justin Meade, personally has logged more than 400 improvement videos over that time, galvanizing his internal reputation for engagement and fastidious concern about the operation and his fellow employees. And he just got promoted to team leader. “A lot of our understanding of his potential came from his approach to 2-Second Lean and the videos,” Braun said.

The idea of the videos is for employees to notice or look for opportunities to improve some aspect of the operation or the company as a whole, record a “before” video if possible, address the concern individually or with others, and then film an “after” video to show that it’s been addressed. The videos are supposed to last less than a minute.

Then, each morning and afternoon at the company’s 15-minute all-shift meetings, a number of the videos are shown. Every one gets a round of applause; a recording by a first-time videographer gets loud clapping. Braun and CEO John Kramer Jr. encourage all employees to participate, but shooting videos isn’t mandatory. Every prospective employee attends a meeting and sees the videos too. A total of more than 3,000 people, also including representatives of suppliers and customers, have attended the  meetings often led by rank-and-file workers, which include calisthenics and expressions of “Grateful Appreciation” by employees for something or someone in their work or personal lives.

Necessarily, the content of the videos is mostly mundane. At a Cambridge meeting one morning in late August, the nine videos shown in rapid-fire order included how one employee noticed and eliminated a “Major trip hazard” involving loose pieces of metal; how a team of two workers laid caution tape to create more visibility for cart traffic in the plant; and how one employee noticed a missing stabilizer on a step stool and replaced it.

Sometimes employees get creative about their presentation, such as one that spliced in clips from Lord of the Rings. “Videos are the best way to tell a story,” Kramer told Chief Executive. “It helps people to own their innovations, to open up, to celebrate the simple, and to own their own span of control and collaborate with others.”

Read more: Masters of Manufacturing: Cambridge Engineering Leaders Help Their People Matter