Companies today are learning the key to reducing workplace inefficiency is right in front of them: their employees. Workers who are included and involved in a company's improvement process are more likely to buy into that process—especially when it involves change.
Putting this into practice is not always easy for small manufacturers, however. Involving frontline workers can be an expensive proposition, especially when you're taking people out of production. How can small firms afford to do that? The answer is simple: companies can't afford not to involve their workers. The frontline employees are often in the best position to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks and chances for improvement that can make their job easier and save the company money. Those ideas might never come to light unless workers are included in the process.
Smaller companies usually find that implementing employees' ideas more than pays for lost production time. It also enhances workers' job satisfaction and motivation and strengthens the relationship between management and workers. The end result is an engaged worker who starts thinking—not only about his or her job, but about the company as a whole.
Who Do You Involve?
Determining who to involve in the process partly depends on the size of your company. If it is very small, it's best to work with all the employees. Involve them as soon as you can, outlining the broad objectives and what involvement you're hoping for.
In larger companies, it's helpful to first introduce the overall objectives to all employees, then gain regular input from workers through a smaller, representative group. For example, if there are natural divisions of labor within a company, select representatives from these divisions to serve as a focal point for involving workers and gathering their input. Some companies even find it helpful to bring in an outside consultant to facilitate the first steps of the process, especially if employees have not previously been involved.
Regardless of your company’s size, once you decide to add employees to the process, it's important to implement some of their ideas as soon as possible. This sends a signal that you are listening to input, that you want workers to be involved and that you are going to act on their suggestions. Failure to implement those ideas in the early stages can stall out the process, leading to demotivated employees and mistrust. It also makes it harder for management to involve employees in future projects.
Two-way communication is vital throughout the entire process, and this remains just as true when involving frontline workers in a union environment. Since there is already an established union leadership representing workers' interests and concerns, that minimizes questions about which workers to involve. If possible, union representatives should be involved in setting goals, discussing current and desired company performance, and outlining any issues or institutional concerns they need to have addressed to help the company move ahead. This helps make the union a partner in the change process.
Dealing with Change
Improvement, of course, is not without its difficulties. Employee fear and apprehension are normal reactions to change of any kind in the workplace. That can be compounded by the fear that changes could lead to some employees losing their jobs. To reassure employees, some companies establish a policy that workers will not be let go due to corporate improvement projects. Another way to deal with fear is by providing training to improve workers' skills, which sends a message that the company is willing to invest in its workers.
In either case, implementing some of the employees' ideas early on—particularly ideas that do not threaten anyone's job—can be the best way to minimize these emotional responses to change. We all feel good when we know we're an effective and respected contributor to our company's success.
Once the process is underway, the final task is to keep employees motivated. Be genuine about using ideas that people come up with, and offer recognition from management and peers. That's a powerful motivator. You can also share information on how the company is doing by posting goals and actual performance. iBi