Posted on July 3, 2016 · Posted in Leadership, Lean, Lean Thoughts, Toyota Way
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Growing People Through Respect


There is so much potential in our organizations that goes untapped

Consider this. If your company owned a piece of equipment capable of gaining it market dominance within its industry, would you leave it turned off? Why, then, do we feel so comfortable turning off the minds of our employees?

“Wait!” you protest. “We do no such thing.”

Let’s put some data to your assertion:

  1. Do you have a suggestion program?
  2. Do you track of the number of implemented suggestions/employee/year?
  3. Do you have an average of two (2) or more implemented suggestions/employee/ year?

This isn’t a quiz about suggestion programs, but it turns out that implemented suggestions are a leading indicator of continuous improvement.

Until you have continuous improvement, you aren’t really moving the dial on a Lean transformation

Why’s that important?  You can do hundreds of Kaizen events and save boatloads of money, but if you’re not continuously improving, you haven’t driven Lean into your culture. That means all your efforts will unravel the moment you stop pushing.

Continuous improvement results when employees, who have mastered their jobs, consistently offer suggestions to improve those jobs. After all, your employees are subject matter experts (SMEs), whether that’s in engineering, manufacturing, accounting, human resources, sales, procurement, rocket design or gene splicing.

Tying back, to continuously improve, you need to have a formal, working suggestion program.

Just as one would measure a child against a doorframe, let’s measure your suggestion program against a standard. The last figures I had for Toyota’s Georgetown, KY plant were that it averaged 11-implemented suggestions per employee per year. How do you compare?

Remember: your number is neither good nor bad. It’s just data. But, it too can be continuously improved.

As most of you know, continuous improvement can only occur when jobs are covered by Standard Work. Like the child against the doorframe, there needs to be a standard against which to judge whether things are improving.

“Where there is no standard, there can be no Kaizen (change for the better).”

Taiichi Ohno

Keep in mind that, just because there is a suggestion program doesn’t meant that workers are allowed to change their jobs willy-nilly. Standard Work for each job is owned by someone else, often the supervisor, and only the owner may change it.

So, the employee develops their idea, documents it and submits it. The owner reviews it and weighs (using data) whether it really improves the current state. If it does, the owner makes the change.

The process, of course, doesn’t end there. The new standard is formally documented and all workers who perform that process are trained, tested and monitored, until it again becomes muscle memory.

Coming full circle, what do Standard Work, or even suggestion systems, have to do with respecting people?

It’s really quite simple. Until people feel respected, most won’t contribute. That means they won’t help you improve if they don’t feel they matter to you.

So, if you wonder why respect for people is such a big deal, it’s because it’s in YOUR BEST INTEREST. Without it, your firm will never become all it is capable of being.

Get Lean; Stay Lean.