Every company I’ve been to tries to involve their employees in their improvement efforts by giving them the opportunity to make “Improvement Suggestions”. Unfortunately, most companies fail to motivate employees to improve because of their unprepared culture.

Yes – success is ALWAYS linked to the existence, or non-existence, of a culture of continuous improvement.

A well-developed culture of continuous improvement results in one major and very necessary thing – that it systematically looks at the so-called entry barriers to improvement, an example of which would be:

  • people don’t have time to think about anything because they are overwhelmed with operations and trying to put out fires
  • the bureaucracy of evaluating improvements makes the whole process incredibly long
  • people often don’t even know how or what to think about
  • management is not involved and allows the improvements to live their own life

(And then, to increase motivation, someone comes along with redeeming quotas – like 1 improvement per employee per week – to complicate things even more.)

So if you want your employees to start improving, consider how to make it easier for them!

First of all, remove the entry barriers!

1 Simplify the process of submitting and evaluating improvements as much as possible

One good example is to divide the improvements into “small” ones, which can be evaluated and assessed right away by the immediate supervisor of the improver, and “medium” and “large” ones, which need more sophisticated descriptions, analyses, and also the participation of an experienced committee to evaluate the functionality and final benefit.

If you are just starting with improvements, expect people to submit various ideas. It is foolish to have your people write up every little detail in a complicated way and have it get to a committee when it can be picked up immediately by a manager. As a good leader, he can then get to know his improvers better, find out how these people think, get more involved, and motivate them to make improvements that are desirable for the company.

2 Don’t let them think about nonsense

By the way, one of the arguments I hear a lot is, “They’re serving us a lot of nonsense!”

When an inappropriate improvement is caught by the immediate supervisor, he or she can promptly point out that it is inappropriate and at the same time consider at least a small compensation, for example, in the form of a cafeteria voucher for the effort.

Either way, you need to be able to relate to what you want from your people. At the very least, train them on MURI, MURA, and MUDA.

MURI = overburdening people and machines (this is what your people will perceive most initially)

MURA = variability and unevenness in work and resource use

MUDA = waste of time and resources (8 types of waste that I’m sure you’re familiar with)

In improvements, you will mainly get suggestions on how to eliminate overload, variability, waste, poor quality, and danger.

But the important thing is that your improvers know these topics and can reflect on them when working. Otherwise, you are asking them to do something they will not be able to do without training and experience. We can help you with this, for example with our Lean Practitioner training.

3 Give them time to think

You won’t help yourself by overloading your staff with operations and firefighting.

My recommendation is to first give people the opportunity to improve their environment and suggest ways to ease the overburden (MURI) that they are complaining about and experiencing daily. This will give them the time and brain capacity to think about how to reduce waste and improve quality and safety.

As I wrote above – these will be the first and the main topics you will encounter mainly in the beginning. And that’s a good thing. If you let your employees think about what makes their jobs difficult, and you effectively improve these issues in a real way, you will gradually gain not only better processes but also the confidence of the improvers in the improvement system. The improvements will probably be small at first, but once they get a feel for the system and educate themselves on the basics of Lean, you can expect to see medium and large improvements.

4 Involve the entire organization

Without involving management, you might as well call it a day!

You have to manage it process-wise and not just leave it to the people in operations and in the office. The whole management team plays a huge role in improvement. If they are not fully involved, the improvement initiative will soon run out of steam and the enthusiasm will die down. From the first-line managers to the top of the company, it is imperative that everyone is on board and constantly contributing to the development of an improvement culture. If management does not look for new ways to motivate, enable people to think about their processes, develop their knowledge and competencies, and, above all, if management does not constantly fight the bureaucracy of the improvement system and continuously improve it, it will be difficult to show people that you are serious and it will not work.

Develop a Kaizen culture and encourage continuous improvement. Actively look for ways to motivate your people, develop them and help them find time to think and improve.

This will not only ensure your quota of improvers but will move your company, your processes, your management, and your people forward by leaps and bounds.

As the saying goes: PER ASPERA AD ASTRA!