Lean – How to Engage Employees

There are two big challenges shared by nearly every organisation.

One – how do we engage our employees fully in improvement activities; and

Two – how do we sustain Continuous Improvement?

So in this short video I’d like to share with you some ideas and techniques. Over the last 20 years or so we’ve found them to be really effective in tackling these two challenges.

The first thing to appreciate is that if we want to improve the way we do things we’ve got to start doing things differently. That means we have to change.

For most of us, change is really difficult. And when it comes to change, different people react differently.

So if we want change to happen, we need to understand what’s going on here and we need to know where to start.

In my opinion, not knowing where to start is one of the main reasons that many change programmes fail.

Of the hundreds of managers that I’ve worked with over the years only about one-third know where to start. The other two-thirds get it wrong.

I said earlier that everyone reacts differently to change – there’s a whole range or spectrum of reactions. But to keep it simple I’m going to split people into three groups.

At the positive end of the spectrum, about 10 to 20% of people will react positively to change; they will at the very least be prepared to try something new.

In the middle are the bulk of people – typically about 50% to 60%. They can be influenced either positively or negatively, depending on how they first experience the change.

And at the other end of the spectrum, about 10% to 20% of the people will react negatively to change;

In fact, they will often actively resist change.

These people we sometimes refer to as the “cavemen”. We don’t mean that these people are neanderthal; what we mean is that they are Completely Against Virtually Everything.

So here’s the really important point: if we want change to happen successfully, then we need to concentrate our efforts on the 10% to 20% of people who are most amenable to the idea of change. That’s the people at the positive end of the spectrum.

These people are the “change agents”.

By working with these change agents we will get some quick wins. These quick wins will encourage the 50 to 60% of floating voters to come along with the change activities.

The other thing we need to take care with is not to spend too much time with the “cavemen”. The danger with the “cavemen” is that they can easily drain all of your emotional energy and time.

So now we know who we need to start working with, let’s think about how we get the ball rolling.

How we begin to engage people in the improvement activities.

Well, the truth is that most of us want to know “what’s in it for me?”

So we need to answer that question right at the outset. And mostly it’s about making people’s jobs easier.

I often say that in some ways the Lean Way is the Lazy Way – it’s about getting more results with less effort.

Or, to put it another way, it’s about working harder, not smarter.

One of the best ways we’ve found of demonstrating this is by having people take part in a factory simulation workshop that we call the “Factory of the Future” workshop.

It’s a fun way to learn about Lean and it demonstrates this point very strongly – Lean is all about working smarter not harder.

So, a good simulation exercise like Factory of the Future is a great way to get the message across.

Let me share with you another really powerful approach that we use.

It can be done in only a couple of hours – and it’s what we call an “Ease and Effect” session.

First, we spend maybe 20 to 30 minutes explaining the basic idea of Lean; the different ways in which time, effort and money are wasted every day in most businesses.

In the jargon we call these the Seven Wastes. We help the team to identify examples in their own business, how to tackle them, and how to prioritise their improvement activities.

Pretty quickly you’ve got a prioritised Improvement Action Plan that you can start straight away.

And most importantly it’s an Action Plan that’s been created and prioritised by the team – very quickly and in the workplace.

So let me try and summarise what we’ve been talking about there.

• Start with the most positive 10 to 20% of your people – your Change Agents
• Demonstrate – perhaps with a workshop session – that working Lean is working easy – it’s about working smarter not harder
• Then start running some Ease and Effect sessions in small groups around the organisation

Pretty soon you’ll have some visible results – some quick wins – and you’ll start to build momentum and start to get more people involved in improvement activities.

And that’s the best possible way to get your Lean journey off to a great start.

So finally – let me wish you every success with your Lean journey.

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