I recently attended an AME Lean Leadership workshop. When the attendees were asked why they attended and what they hoped to take away from the two-day event a general theme emerged. The downturn in business caused by the recession had resulting in staffing reductions at many of their facilities. What they were searching for were ways to re-engage the workforce after trust had taken a beating. How, they asked, do you re-engage the workforce in continuous improvement after the trauma of lay-offs – both temporary and permanent? What are the lean leadership tools or techniques I can use when I return to work? These were hard questions with no easy answers.
Since an engaged workforce is the foundation of a truly lean business I suggest you start to bridge the void caused by painful lay-offs and terminations by focusing solely on safety improvement. You earn trust by giving it therefore I believe you have to look for ways to engage your employees in continual improvement so that they can, for themselves, discover the value of continuous improvement. To state it in an oft used acronym they need to understand WIIFM (what’s in it for me?). Without a doubt the easiest entry point to re-engage employees is in the continual improvement of safety. I suggest this safe path to continual improvement because everyone - managers, hourly workers, unions, etc. will rally around and support safety improvement efforts. And if you’re a business leader how better to show respect for people and begin to build the level of trust than by focusing your and their efforts on improving their safety while at work. If you do nothing but focus on safety after this economic downturn you will build trust, reduce injury risks and reduce business costs. That would make you a role model leader.