Unlocking Employee Potential

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Paul Dunlop discusses how unlocking employee potential is at the core of Lean yet often overlooked by even the most well-meaning practitioners.

When we talk about continuous improvement as the elimination of waste in the pursuit of flow, there are many types of waste that can have an influence. We can debate endlessly about which waste has the bigger impact and why – and none of the arguments would be wrong.

However, in my experience the single biggest waste from a Lean viewpoint is non-use of skill. The waste of not utilising our human capital to its potential.

Focus on unlocking employee potential

If we are unable or unwilling to unlock the potential in our people then we will struggle to optimise our process no matter how we approach it. We can ‘buy’ our way to improvement – to a point. We can do this through equipment, layout, skills and additional labour. However, without genuine engagement, ownership, and investment from the people on the ground, improvement activity can only reach a certain level.

When I talk about non-use of skills I am referring to neglecting the single biggest resource every organisation has at their fingertips and is already paying for. It never ceases to amaze me how often organisations acknowledge and openly talk about employee engagement being a priority yet never actually enable it.

I’m talking primarily about employee engagement at the frontlines. There is a massive opportunity that is lost to organisations when we treat those people as simply a body for conducting labour rather than as a brain for driving innovation and improvement.

Respect for people in Lean

In the Lean world we talk about the concept of ‘respect for people’. This means that we place a great deal of value on the employee experience. We want to ensure that we provide the best quality work for a human being. We must prioritise providing that person with a clear sense of meaning and purpose in their daily work. It is incumbent on the organisation and its leadership to provide all of the necessary tools, training, systems and support to ensure that people are set up for success.

Part of the respect for people approach is to ensure that people have a legitimate voice and are heard by their peers and by their leaders. This voice should be one where people have the ability to raise legitimate frustrations and concerns. They must also be able to present ideas and improvement opportunities and have these items received with empathy and curiosity. Finally, they must see real action taken as a result.

If we look at the average working life of a human being we can spend anywhere in the vicinity of 50 years in the workforce – that is a seriously long time. At least eight hours a day, five days per week and however many weeks a year depending on holidays. We spend our adult life working, sleeping and find some time for ourselves and our loved ones in between.

I figure that the working experience should be the best possible experience it can be for humans. Bar winning the lottery we are all in this situation; we all have to pay the bills, put a roof over our head, feed the family etc. Respect for people recognises this and ensures no matter what people do that they feel there is meaning and purpose in their work and themselves as human beings are valued.

How we can waste employee potential

Back to waste – non-use of skills speaks to a number of wastes:

  • Incorrectly assigning a person/people to a job.
  • Not providing people with the appropriate training and tools to conduct their work.
  • Not utilising past work experience or skills.
  • Not understanding what other skills a person has that could be utilised in their role.
  • Undervaluing their expertise, know how and insights in their role.

Non-use of skill ultimately comes down to the fact that most of the time leaders and organisations fail to recognise that the only experts at doing the work in the organisation are the people who actually do the work.

This sounds so obvious however, it’s commonplace for organisations to completely neglect these people and their thoughts. It is also common for leaders to impose their will on the process. We have to recognise that the most important people in any organisation are those closest to the process and closest to the customer. These are the only people who actually add value (make any money) for the business and without them the process simply does not run!

The best way to harness this talent is to bring people together by connecting them through structure and a set of common goals. Providing structured forums like daily huddles where people have a voice, can discuss and debate issues and ideas and can safely speak their minds is the way forward.

This must be combined with clear and unwavering support at all levels of leadership to ensure that a people-first approach is lived everyday.

A C.I. framework to maximise employee potential

Providing autonomy to individuals & teams requires systems that support decision making at every level – supported by the right data and at all times, aligned to strategy. Supporting individual Mastery requires people to be able to freely access the training & know-how they need to better themselves.

To provide individuals and teams with a purpose larger than themselves, they need a communication process that connects them & their toil routinely and specifically to the big picture.

The image below outlines how we designed an interconnected TeamAssurance platform which achieves these goals. One that avoids the locally optimised and disconnected ‘Point solutions’ (digital or analog) that do not help sustain either lasting business performance or maximising individual employee potential.

TeamAssurance Connected Systems Chart
TeamAssurance enables organisations to unlock employee potential at all levels through an interconnected platform. If you’d like to explore the opportunities offered by digital aids to Lean tools contact us for a demonstration.

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