Employee engagement, Festo
Festo Training and Consulting

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A lean engagement

When we consider lean manufacturing and the benefits that it can bring to business, we often fail to realise the impact that such a process can have on our employees. So, when we approach our staff geared up with excitement to announce a new lean manufacturing initiative, business leaders can be surprised by the lack of support from their workforce.

That’s because we’ve forgotten the importance of engaging our employees and bringing them on the journey with us.

Employee engagement is essential to a successful outcome of any major change project especially lean manufacturing. Lean initiatives often result in a fundamental change to the way things are done, the working patterns of staff and will usually disrupt the environment. Lean manufacturing can challenge people intellectually, asking them to think differently and come up with creative suggestions to improve manufacturing process. Employees will have to face a great deal of change, and we know that change and disruption are things a lot of people hate.

There is also the personal impact that will be important to consider. The words ‘lean manufacturing’ can create fear and anxiety in individuals. While business leaders might mean ‘improvement, efficiency, investment’, employees tend to hear ‘job loss and redundancy’. At the start of each lean manufacturing project, we often don’t know where the areas of improvement will be, and equally where efficiency gains can be made. While this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to offer guarantees about job security, as leaders we need to be aware that the decisions we make will have an impact on people’s lives.

Tips for engaging employees

  1. The first thing is to involve employees early on. Rather than setting up a closed group to consider lean manufacturing, speak to employees and let them know that you are embarking on a lean manufacturing initiative.
  2. Give them the business reasons why lean manufacturing is being considered. Express the vision of the company – where you are heading, the challenges you are facing and what they can do within the business to create a successful future, for both the organisation and importantly for themselves.
  3. Set employees a controlled environment where they can consider improvements within their own jobs and departments. It’s important that they have fixed boundaries in which they can offer suggestions for improvements.
  4. Engage them creatively in the process. Encourage them to speak to their peers, customers and other people they liaise with to bring ideas for improvements. They’re the closest to the business and will often surprise you with their innovative ideas.
  5. Recognise that not all employees will react to lean initiatives in the same way. Employees will often fall into one of the five following groups.
  • Champion
  • Co-operator
  • Fence Sitter
  • Cynic
  • Saboteur

Champions and co-operators will be the key groups to work with early on. They will be important at persuading the fence sitters and the cynics about the benefits of engaging with the project. Saboteurs are the true disruptive force and little can be done to change their views and opinions. Identify them and then move them away from the project where they cannot be disruptive. Fortunately, true saboteurs are few and far between but they can derail a lean manufacturing project.

Engaged employees stay longer, are more productive, make fewer errors and take better care of customers. Engagement is also fundamental to make certain the benefits of lean manufacturing are fully realised - increased production or efficiency, reduction in cost base, and a better product for less.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Festo Training and Consulting .

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