Engaging your Workforce for Maximum Results
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Monday, July 4, 2011
Like many other companies, globalisation, soaring costs, and a slew of other industry specific factors are forcing our company, in particular the site at which I work, to improve efficiencies and ultimately, the bottom line. Increasing reliability is a key component to improvement (if not survival) and so our site is currently undergoing a major reliability initiative. Partnering with a top reliability consultant we have ambitious plan to review and improve our business processes and if need be our operating practices. This is not simply the introduction of a single new tool or deployment of a new EAM/CMMS. That frankly would be easy in comparison. No, the extent of our changes is so significant that it will essentially be a change of culture, particularly for those who have been with the company for a long period of time.In any change initiative, particularly one going as deep as changing a culture, success cannot be achieved without the engagement of those who will be most affected. It is frankly paramount and anybody telling you otherwise has not been around long enough after a change initiative to gauge whether the change was sustainable.Our project steering team recognised this early on and designed a number of engagement activities to take place during the life of the project. We are half way along our journey and I have deduced that engagement requires two key ingredients: involvement and communication.In our project implementation strategy we have taken employees from all aspects of the business, from virtually all departments, and created what we call ‘Focus Teams’. These teams focus on one of four areas identified as needing significant process re-engineering. Of course a much simpler (and frankly cheaper) method would have been to simply tell and train people on the new processes already defined by our consultant. This is the ‘involvement’ bit and I can tell you that the engagement of those individuals participating is nothing short of wonderful. They have taken ownership of ‘their’ processes and are truly disciples of change amongst their peers, as witnessed at a recent open house we held.Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of involving everyone on site as a member of a focus team. This is particularly sad as we have had other members of our workforce ask if they could be on a team. It’s definitely a nice problem to have. For those that cannot be involved, we have recognised that communication is imperative. Nobody likes surprises and an informed person can still be involved by way of thinking about what is being communicated, asking questions and providing feedback. By simply knowing what is going on, employees have brought up some interesting points for our teams to consider in the process reviews. Having teams working in isolation with no visibility or communication would not have yielded this input.Our communication efforts are happening through a number of mediums, including ‘town hall’ type forums, crew meetings, and supervisory bulletins to name a few. The biggest impact has been achieved from our dedicated ‘communication boards’ put up in a number of high traffic areas. At about the size of a 50” plasma television (but at a fraction of the cost), these boards keep people in tune (aka “engaged”) with that the focus teams are working on and the progress they are making.Engagement levels appear to be healthy as we go about this major change initiative project and we attribute this to involving as many people as possible and communicating frequently to as wide an audience we can. One could argue there are other more drastic means of engaging people such as ‘incentives’ at one end of the spectrum to the threat of plant closure and job loss at the other. This approach is neither what we believe in nor what our project is all about. Finally, you don’t need a major culture changing project to require engagement – you should strive for it every day in every business aspect. That’s how you will ensure you are always getting maximum results from your workforce.