Monday, March 12, 2012

Inmates running your asylum – Are employees really directing the company?

At a recent conference, a concern was voiced that was food for thought. If the Continuous Improvement teams are “fixing” all kinds of things, are we turning the management of our organization over to hourly employees, and is this a dangerous thing to do?

I have participated in hundreds of Continuous Improvement (CI) team events and have been amazed at the thousands of small improvements these teams deliver. Amazingly, there never seems to be an end to what employees can and will improve if we give them the training and leadership support required to make them functional with the CI processes. At first, the teams just focused on day-to-day problems that caused downtime, potentially led to injuries at the workface, and the like. Later, we began to engage the front line employees in developing solutions to weak processes like Near Miss, Incident Investigation and Contractor Safety. This was a big change that had teams providing deliverables like audits, training, accountabilities for upper management, policies and the like.

And so the above question about who is running our “asylums” or even where does it ever stop? My answers to these questions are:

• This approach of engaging employees in problem solving issues that affect them does not stop. Once you have developed a culture which thrives on the engagement of your personnel, they become hooked on doing what they can to keep winning the battles of a relentless pursuit of zero problems. For the 10% or so of the people who consistently participate in this quest for excellence, it becomes addictive to some extent.

• The process of EBS (Engagement Based Safety) does not have the employees running your organization. The employees are predominantly engaged in addressing the tactical day-to-day issues at the workface where they live. Their proposed solutions are reviewed by capable, salaried leadership. The new approaches are piloted before being rolled out, and then audited for effectiveness. In short, there are all kinds of checks and balances that keep the train (or asylum) on track.

• Additionally, the strategic initiatives are still run by the salaried management who are responsible for their kind of in depth, long term improvement process.

In conclusion: fear not, let not your heart be troubled; in this approach, the inmates will help your asylum perform beyond your wildest hopes and dreams.

The Doc

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