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employee engagement

Leadership’s Personal Side

Succeeding in lean requires serious attention to developing people.

Getting buy-in from employees is important from the start of any continuous improvement initiative. Otherwise, expect to fail—90% of lean initiatives do, said David Rea of Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh economic development firm that supports small and medium-sized manufacturers.

Rea led the deep-dive leadership session “Leading with Lean” at the IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Show in early April.

Successful companies devote much of their resources to developing their people, said Rea. They give leadership training not just to the people at the very top, but at the managerial and front-line-supervisor levels, working with them on their coaching, communication and problem-solving skills.

Manufacturers who focus solely on the practical needs of the company—getting the job done—and ignore the personal or ‘human” needs that people bring to their work and to an interaction will fail in their continuous improvement initiatives.

How do you address employees’ personal needs? Rea asked.

1. Build esteem: You need a sense of worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative and committed to your work. To maintain a worker’s esteem when things haven’t gone as planned, focus on facts and give respect and support.

Sample script: "I agree that you’re meeting your production numbers, and that’s very important to the bottom line. It’s also important to make sure the data is reported on time so that other departments can act on it. How can we make sure that the data is reported on time?"

Tip: In your praise, be specific about what people do and why it’s effective. Instead of: “Excellent job on the new housekeeping checklist, Ravi. Bob and I are very happy and he asked me to tell you, ‘nice job.’” Try: Bob and I are very happy with the new housekeeping checklist, Ravi. It’s easy to use and will help reduce cleanup.

2. Empathize: Show an understanding of people’s feelings of success, failure, pride and frustration. Respond to both feelings and facts, and defuse negative emotions. You can empathize with positive feelings, too.

Sample script: “It’s obvious that these last-minute changes have caused a lot of aggravation for you and the team.”

Tip: Provide support without removing responsibility. Instead of, “I know you’re anxious about presenting,” try, “with your communication skills and knowledge of the topic, you’ll do a great job.”

3. Share: People work best with leaders they trust who appropriately disclose thoughts, feelings or rationale. This creates a climate of openness.

Disclose what is relevant to the situation. Offering the ‘whys’ behind a decision, idea or change alleviates assumptions and rumors. Be honest, and be vulnerable.

Sample script: “Let me give you some details on what started this process and why our group needs to have a key role in it.”

4. Support: Don’t tell someone they’re not doing something right, and then do it yourself. Instead, providing support (coaching, training, guidance, mentoring) builds people’s sense of ownership of the task and confidence that they can accomplish it.  

Help others think and do. Resist the temptation to take over. Be realistic about what you can do. Remove barriers and supply resources.

Sample script: “I know this procedure is unfamiliar to you. I’d be happy to coach you through the process if you think that would be helpful.”

5. Involve: Commitment is stronger and success more likely when ideas belong to the people who will carry them out. When you ask for input, you show them that you value their intellect and abilities.  

Unleash ideas with open-ended questions. Encourage responsibility and commitment through involvement.

Sample script: “Before we get too far along in the process, I wanted to take some take to ask you how you think the setup for the operation is progressing. I’d also like to hear your thoughts and opinions about anything else you might have observed.”

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