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How to Empower Employees to Make Their Own Productivity Improvements

In the world of business, good change is brutally hard. And changing a culture is even harder—that is, without demonstrating a better way for employees to physically and mentally do the work they were hired to do.

For if employees feel their work has little meaning—because waste gets in the way of giving their best—CEOs can talk until they’re blue in the face about improving the culture, but words alone rarely help.

What must be done to change a culture instead, is to show employees a better way to do the work they enjoy doing, while letting them have a say in eliminating the waste that prevents them from doing their job better. Do so, and you’ll improve your people, your profits—and find greater purpose as a leader.

The lean leadership principles help achieve these objectives. Unlike command and control, there’s less malicious compliance with lean, because first and foremost, respect is the foundational building block supporting lean principles.

“A solid culture must be in place for good change to occur and process to be improved.”

A solid culture must be in place for good change to occur and process to be improved. And talent, which chief executives complain is hard to find, is today, lost behind the 4Ms: The methods, machines, materials—and madness—used to conduct business today. It’s precisely those “Four M’s” that drive economic loss not visible on the income statement.

One way to re-think the importance of process is to get employees engaged in continually improving the areas of the business that directly impact them and your customers. That’s what it takes to improve culture. Remove the barriers to employees’ excellence, and they will remove the barriers to your business processes.

Statistics remain highly valuable in improving a business process, but they tell us little about people and the conditions in which they work. To understand the latter, use a recording device to recount process steps.

Recording cycle times helps identify even the smallest, fastest, elements of a particular operation. And it is those precise elements that contain the wasteful activities which prevent people from doing their jobs well.

To help improve process and culture, bring a team together for a week. A simple technology such as an iPhone can be used to record how long it takes each team member to conduct his or her particular process. After recording, work with the team to understand why they have to conduct business this way. It also gives everyone an understanding of the precise pain points others must go through to get their work done.

Measuring and seeing cycle times for themselves also allows teams to re-think existing processes to make their production system itself better.

Once a team has written down everyone’s cycle times, have them work together to create a future state where the work is distributed evenly, so bottlenecks in production will be fewer, and information and product flow will improve.

After testing and proving that the future state is possible, new processes are recorded and cycle times remeasured. By now, teams are excited, because they realize their voices matter.

The difference between cycle times can then be used to benchmark future improvement projects. The video can be kept for comparative purposes, especially when the team veers away from their future state. It’s a good memory of the training event too, one employees rarely forget.

By using these methods myself, I’ve seen teams collectively improve their team’s productivity by as much as 50%—a crowning achievement that they all feel good about.


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