High Levels of Employee Engagement are Critical to Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a process of continuous improvement, but how exactly is a production team supposed to know what needs to be improved? The answer lies — to a great degree — in the hearts and minds of your front line staff. If they are engaged, the ideas will flow, opportunities for improvement will be communicated, and improvements will be implemented. But where do we start, and how do we “make engagement happen”?

The topic of employee engagement can sound fuzzy when it comes up on in the rugged environment of the shop floor, but it’s actually straightforward. When employees are engaged, everything they touch is affected in a positive way. They handle customers calls better, pay attention to product production details, and generally “go the extra mile” for their employer. And according to Thomas Pyzdek — I am paraphrasing here his comments on the subject — two core elements of high levels of employee engagement are (1) an employee’s sense of involvement, and (2) an effective means of communication for all employees.

An employee’s sense of involvement

If you’ve worked within a number of organizations in your career thus far, you will likely have worked at some point where you felt “left out of the process”. That is, you were not involved in the decision-making process and a lot of what happened around you surfaced as a bit of a surprise. Events had a random quality to them, with little clarity on the reasoning that might have gone into decisions. A worker on such a shop floor might feel their front line exposure is being squandered, and the more detached that employee feels from the decision-making process, the less engaged they become. Lean Six Sigma won’t happen if that employee is not fully on board.

A means of communication

The second phenomenon affecting employee engagement, according to Pyzdek, is the degree to which an employee can both provide and receive communication. How, for example, does a front line employee pass vital information on a potential safety issue with a new piece of machinery? If organizational inertia gets in their way, employees will naturally communicate less. The same goes for facts coming from other parts of the company to that frontline employee. Are they being told of issues relating to their own contribution and productivity, such as their week-by-week productivity levels compared to expectations?

The foundation for Lean is employee communication

It all boils down to communication. Corkboards, slideshows, emails and memos are all great at pushing information to an audience, but for a Lean Six Sigma initiative to prosper, the process is about receiving more than pushing. Email, slideshows and the like all have their place and purpose, but are interrupt-driven by nature. An employee communication solution, in contrast, puts the control of information flow mostly into the hands of the audience, the recipient of the information. Just as the “push” nature of traditional television is being supplemented by pay-per-view and on-demand viewing (think Pandora, Netflix and Amazon Prime), so too is the interrupt-driven nature of tradition workplace communication being supplanted by “audience-controlled” communication tools. The change has been so subtle, many of us hardly noticed it happening, but think how much on-demand screen viewing you do today (think Facebook and Netflix) compared to email and TV viewing a mere twenty years ago.

The employee who came in from the cold

The modern employee communication solution is such an audience-controlled system. It doesn’t do away with tradition methods of communication, but rather, it supplements them by drawing isolated contributors into the conversation. Disconnected and isolated employees are no longer left in that state. Instead of becoming disengaged and falling away, they become energized and realigned with the purpose of the organization.

It all starts with employee communication, and it’s only too late if you don’t start today.

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