Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Secret Path to Employee Engagement

What were they thinking? Before I reveal the secret path to employee engagement I have a new topic for the “What were they thinking” section of my blog post. What were they thinking when the developed the cheap plastic bags used in almost every grocery store in the US? I can speculate that their objective was to reduce the cost of a bag but I am certain what they were “not thinking” about was the impact on the environment. The other day I turned left onto a road that had an open field on one side and a large Dominick’s grocery store on the opposite side. The field had at least 50 empty plastic bags strewn across its surface. They were hung up on the remnants of last year’s soybean stalks blowing in the wind like symbolic flags of a country that cares more about profits than the environment. Contrast that to the Island of Maui. My wife and I escaped the Chicago weather by spending some time there after the Christmas holiday season. We did not see any discarded plastic bags hanging on tree limbs, fences or the foliage for cheap plastic bags are illegal. An ordinance was passed in 2008 and took effect in January of 2011. I believe the rest of our country should follow Maui’s lead and starting today each of us should begin to carry our own bags to the grocery store. Interesting how the unintended consequences, of what was at one point in time a good idea; can quickly destroy the benefit of the original idea. What do you think?

Now onto the big reveal! The secret path to employee engagement is to focus each and every employee on the continuous improvement of safety. I know you already have a safety program - but the focus of that program is safety compliance – compliance to OSHA’s or some other regulatory agencies regulations. Last week I conducted a Lean Safety workshop at a facility in Rockford, Illinois. My task, as defined by the managers who hired me, was to begin to turn their safety culture toward one where employees were engaged in coaching each other in safety improvement. Coaching rather than policing each other is a big change in safety thinking for most companies. That is because compliance based safety is a top down directive activity that leaves those responsible looking and often feeling like police officers. Safety compliance is predicated on a parent child relationship and too often relies on discipline, or at least fear, to drive compliance throughout the organization. Have you ever heard someone say, “We need to send a strong message to all of our employees!” when discussing the type and duration of discipline for a safety violation? That statement can easily be translated into “We need to drive fear throughout the workplace to make sure everyone is compliant with the safety regulations.” One of W. Edward Deming’s 14 management points is “to drive fear out of the workplace.” Every action management takes either builds or tears down the level of trust. How can any management team possible hope to change the safety culture in a business if they use fear as a tool to drive safety compliance? So instead, why not harness the creative energy of all employees by leading them in a cultural changing trust building activity to make safety improvement as important as safety compliance is to the business.

Safety improvement activities, like those defined in the workshop in Rockford, engage people in proactive safety improvement driven by the desire to improve safety – nothing else. Each attendee committed to one of three tasks at the end of the workshop day. They could:

1. Conduct multiple lean safety gemba walk during which they would engage and coach another worker to define opportunities to make the work of that individual safer and easier.
2. Commit to practice a pre-defined safety standard work practice that would demonstrate to all their safety commitment.
3. Meet with others and define a suggestion to fundamentally change the current safety program.

When I return in mid-February each workshop attendee will do a report out on their activities and the outcome of those activities. It will be the start of a safety culture change - the secret path to employee engagement and continuous improvement.

I will be facilitating an AME sponsored public 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a Starbuck’s coffee roasting facility in Minden, Nevada the last week of February. If you want to learn more about lean safety and engaging you staff in safety improvement visit the AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) website to register. http://www.ame.org/events/lean-safety-0
I hope to see some of you there. Stay safe!

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