Tag Archives: Total Employee Involvement

Field of Daisies

A daisy rising from my brick walkway reminded me this morning, that even in the worst environment, there is a chance for growth.  But this kind of individual heroism does not portend success for Lean transformation.  As an organization with the slogan “Everybody Everyday,” GBMP places high value on Total Employee Involvement as an essential piece of continuous improvement.

I have a long-standing practice of asking managers “What percent of your employees come to work every day, excited about a potential solution to a problem or an idea for improvement?”   

After 20 years in Lean consulting, the answers I receive to that question have not changed much.  Here are a few:

  • “We had a good run for a few months when maybe a third of our workforce was engaged, but we’re probably at about 5% now.”
  • “The only serious work on improvement or problem solving comes from our dedicated Kaizen team.” 
  • “One company owner, call him John Smith, actually told me during a sales call, “Our employees are morons, so that wouldn’t work here,” a comment sufficiently offensive that I politely excused myself from the meeting: “If that’s how you feel, Mr. Smith, then you’re right, Lean is not an option for you.” 

Fortunately, most responses to my question are kinder than Smith’s, but the percentage estimate for employee involvement is still almost always less than 25%.  If less than one fourth of employees are participating in problem solving or improvement, no wonder so many organizations report lukewarm outcomes from Lean.  You can debate the exact percentages for employee involvement, but all of the estimates and expectations are resignedly low.  

So, what’s missing?  Do we need  better employees as Mr. Smith suggests?  Or are employees like the daisy in my walkway?    Even an awful environment will grow an occasional daisy.   We call those few, the “self-starters”, the “A-team”, persons who rise above every obstacle to achieve.  And how do we reward them?  We give more challenges to them until they are overwhelmed.  That’s the predominant system. 

So, how do some organizations break through to generate broad employee involvement?   A manager from one Shingo Prize-winning factory related:

 “When we first subscribed to the Shingo insight that systems drive behavior, we realized if employees were not engaged, then perhaps the means by which we encouraged involvement needed to be revised.  That was a humbling eye-opener.  For example, we discovered that our idea system was literally losing employee ideas in the evaluation process.  Employees took this as rejection and just stopped submitting ideas.  They felt disrespected.”

At a deeper level, the willingness of this factory’s managers to question the systems that they themselves had created exemplified a couple of fundamental Shingo Principles:

  • Lead with humility
  • Respect every individual  

According to the manager from that factory, “the biggest lesson for me personally was how much my behavior affected all of my employees.  These principles have been guideposts for us to create an army of problem solvers.”  Call it a field of daisies.

Are you relying on a few self-starters to create improvement or are you developing an army of involved employees?   Please share your thoughts.    

O.L.D.

BTW – Want to learn more about creating a culture of Total Employee Involvement?  We’ve got a twofer for you. 

First, on October 21-22, we’ll be at Legrand (Wiremold) in Hartford teaching the Shingo Institute’s CULTURAL ENABLERS workshop that describes the fundamental principles of Lead with Humility and Respect Every Individual.  Read more about it here.

Then on October 23-24, the 15th Annual Northeast LEAN Conference will be held at  The Connecticut Convention Center, also in Hartford. The event features 50+ sessions to engage the hearts and minds of our most valuable asset, out employees. Learn about GBMP’s biggest event of the year here and register your team today! I sincerely hope to see you there.

Dead See Scrolls

I participated recently in the AME conference in Jacksonville, Florida; a terrific rally for manufacturing excellence with the tongue-twisting theme “Strategic Success Through People Powered Excellence.”   I had a small role on a keynote panel that attempted to answer questions from attendees relating to generating the people power needed for strategic success.  The session evoked a sense of déjà vu, as the challenge to get everyone actively engaged in improvement  – referred to in pre-Lean times as Total Employee Involvement or TEI –  has resurfaced after nearly three decades of dormancy under the heading of people powered excellence. “This is a good thing,” I thought to myself, “that the Lean transformation discussion has moved to the social part of Lean, but why has it taken so long to resurface?”

When the panel discussion concluded, I retreated to further reflection: “Maybe,” I thought, “there never was a social part of Lean, only a set of techniques to be implemented and layered over a traditional organizational structure that valued only a few “thinkers” and treated everyone else as expendable ‘doers.” Maybe this was why the focus shifted in the early ’90s from Total Employee Involvement to Some Employee Involvement: Blitz Kaizen teams and black belts and subject matter experts and value stream leaders, none of which existed in the pre-Lean era. Maybe the Total part was just too hard or too foreign, so we retreated to our caste system of thinkers and doers and glommed onto the technical part of TPS. Technical problems, after all, are always so much easier to solve than people problems.

ideabookIn the late 80’s, Productivity Press (now CRC Press –  then the leader in bringing TPS thinking to America) published an excellent “TEI Newsletter”, a resource that provided tremendous insight about creating the environment that we are now referring to as ‘people powered excellence.’ I have all the old issues, but there is no reference to the newsletter on the Internet; and no reference to TEI in the popular Lean Lexicon or any other glossary I researched. The acronym and what it stands for have apparently been expunged from our Lean consciousness.   For those of you who’d like to revisit this prehistoric concept I recommend reading The Idea Book, authored by the Japan Human Relations Association in 1998. The book (once published by CRC Press) is now out of print, but available on Amazon for $0.01.

theoryzDigging farther into the pre-Lean period is another seminal text by William Ouchi, entitled Theory Z, a seminal dissertation penned in 1982 on creating a management system that stimulates employee engagement and loyalty.   This book came to mind during my keynote panel discussion. I wondered how many of the 1500 persons in the room had ever heard of it. Theory Z is also now out of print and available on Amazon for $0.01. Ouchi’s book is largely reflective of W. Edwards Deming’s thinking, and is still very important reading.

My post-panel musings caused me to venture to the AME exhibitors area for a visit to the CRC Press booth to peruse their latest offerings. Nearly all of the display was comprised of technical how-to books: 5S, A3, 3P, kaizen events, policy deployment, value streaming for this and that, and a host of Lean-for… texts (Lean for sales, Lean for healthcare, Lean for accounting, etc.) I asked the salesperson, “Do you still publish Ohno’s and Shingo’s books? I don’t see them here.”   He replied, “Yes we do, but we only bring new books to the conference.” (Shingo’s 1988 book, Non-Stock Production, is happily still in print, if not on the shelves.) As he answered, I recalled a warning from Shigeo Shingo that we should “not confuse means with ends,” for example, don’t think of 5S as an end in itself, but as a means to a higher purpose. All I saw for sale however was means type texts from latter day disciples.   Apparently the works from the likes of Shingo and Ohno and Ouchi have become more like the Dead Sea scrolls: they still exist, but almost nobody reads them any more. Call them the Dead See Scrolls to disambiguate.

O.L.D.

News Flash: DExc

Don’t miss this important Shingo Institute training event, Discover Excellence.
Date: January 8-9, 2014
Place: Haworth Inc., Holland, Michigan
Instructor: Me
For more information, visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events

BTW: This is the fourth anniversary of Old Lean Dude, a blog I started partly to promote management engagement in continuous improvement and partly as a means to blow off steam. Posting about twice per month since 2010 has, in fact, been helpful to my personal sense of well being, but I hope there has also been some value to others. Thanks to everyone who has responded to my posts. I really do appreciate your comments and observations.   Keep ‘em coming.  – Bruce