Value Add: How to Motivate and Engage Employees in the Age of Lean Manufacturing

How can lean-focused manufacturers change their organizational culture to motivate not just factory workers, but everyone across the enterprise—from IT, to accounting, to HR—to embrace the tenets of lean manufacturing and constantly improve their own processes for the betterment of the organization as a whole?

“Lean manufacturing has taken so many different forms of meaning in the market, as people have their own interpretations,” says Mike Martyn, founder of SISU Consulting in Tualatin, Ore. He notes that the traditional definition of “non-value add” is anything the customers don’t want to pay for. But that definition is a bit narrow because that means nothing else—such as IT, accounting or HR—is added value. However, these processes should also be subject to improvement.

“You may not know how to improve processes at this point, but that doesn’t mean they are processes that should be taken for granted,” he says. “Every process should be put on the table.”

“I see some organizations evolving their thinking of value add as delighting customers, wowing customers, attracting customers—all those things we need to do to ensure we provide exceptional experiences for customers.”

That concept has actually “rocked the manufacturing world,” because many thought that if managers did not handle this well, a lot of employees could be put out of work if they were classified as non-value added. “In their mind, they are hearing that they have no value,” Martyn says.

“I see some organizations evolving their thinking of value add as delighting customers, wowing customers, attracting customers—all those things we need to do to ensure we provide exceptional experience for customers,” he says. “They are trying to do it in a way that they don’t classify people as value add or non-value add, but instead focus on the certain things that customers want.”

In his consultant practice, Martyn’s specialty is “cultural”—“changing the thinking that technology is going to solve all their problems.” But as much as organizations have technology, they still have people and processes, and they really need to motivate them to improve every day.

“We want to bring the concept of improvement to life,” he says. “I think if an organization is really looking to provide exceptional value for customers by continuing to improve value in everything they do, they have to have everyone aligned and involved—they have to be engaged.”

The key to accomplishing that is to understand what motivates people to want to participate in these activities—not just to do their job, but also to improve their job, Martyn says. He feels it’s important for organizations to not get trapped in the definition of lean, but to create a management system that manages for results every day by focusing on activities that achieve the goals of the organization.

In addition, to be successful, it’s critical to have a leader who values the contributions that people make and is truly open to criticism. “People need less to be told what to do and need more to be empowered to do what they already know what they should be doing,” he says. “They have to be aligned with what the organization wants to accomplish, and then they need to be given a certain level of autonomy to self-manage and self-regulate. If they really know their job well, then they are in the best position to improve their job to get those best outcomes.”

Leaders become more like facilitators to teams who become the drivers of success, rather than people who are just obliged to follow a process, no matter if that process is good or not, Martyn says. “The transition can be tough—it takes work, but it’s worth it,” he says. “Leaders will typically like the results better when they see it, and then they’ll want more of it.”



  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events