Two recent surveys highlighted just how disengaged people are at work. According to Gallup’s “2018 Global Great Jobs Briefing,” only 13% of American full-time workers said they had “great jobs,” defined as good jobs where they also felt engaged. And a survey by Accountemps found that workers were disengaged 26% of the time.
For some employees, more company perks or less red tape would make them feel engaged. No one can argue with those understandable wishes, but companies would be smart to consider suggestion systems. The surveys reminded us of a recent conversation we had with Steve Ansuini, who established the suggestion system at Toyota’s Georgetown plant. He said the paramount purpose of the system was engagement. So, we asked him to explain how to start and grow a suggestion system that fosters engagement. In Part 1, he described how to start a system. Here he describes the next two steps for developing it. -Chet Marchwinski, LEI
After two to five years, depending on the size of your company and its commitment to training and development, it’s time to evolve the suggestion program to a higher level. In this phase, you start doing more training of team members but especially of supervisors and team or group leaders. Training subjects typically include, among others, applying more advanced problem-solving methods, running effective meetings, using QC tools, and gathering, analyzing, and displaying data.
This also is the time to introduce a little higher level of criteria for eligible suggestions by emphasizing higher problem-solving skills and countermeasure development.
For example, initially, I reviewed every suggestion because I wanted to make sure group leaders were meeting established criteria when approving suggestions. I found that even though supervisors were trained on the standards, many approved disallowed ideas. They didn’t want to be the bad guys who rejected team member suggestions. They let the suggestion office be the bad guys.
The corrective action we took was to give point-of-need training to supervisors who approved ideas that should have been rejected. I’d bring the suggestions to the group leader or supervisor’s area and say, "Okay, these are five suggestions you submitted for approval of payment. They are not acceptable. This is why.”
For instance, sometimes team members suggested, and supervisors approved, putting up signs to solve problems. But a sign by itself won’t prevent recurrence of a problem, so it’s not an acceptable suggestion. I would coach the supervisor or group leader how they might approach the team member and explain why the sign itself was not going to prevent recurrence.
In a very prominent example, which we ultimately used in our training, of an idea that should have been rejected, a team member suggested putting up a sign warning forklift drivers not to pull up too close to a cinder block wall because the forks were damaging the wall. After coaching, the supervisor talked with the team member, who resubmitted the idea. The new idea called for installing a metal rail on the floor to stop forklift wheels a safe distance from the wall. There still was a sign with the idea but now it read something like, “Caution. Floor rail in place to prevent forks from damaging wall."
By now, everyone except new hires had had developmental training on the suggestion system. We continued to encourage participation but emphasized the need to meet suggestion criteria by regularly auditing summitted suggestions against the standards. We also trained hourly and salaried team members as needed.
Some group leaders from time to time would call me and say, "Hey, I have a stack of suggestions in my inbox that I just can't get done." As a point-of-need training, we’d review them together, then talk about whether each had met the criteria for approval. In 15 or 30 minutes, we’d get through the stack, and the supervisor had a better understanding of how to evaluate suggestions. To me, the most powerful training is point-of-need training. The one downside is it takes a little bit more time commitment by the trainer.
One of the most important lessons we learned very quickly was that turnaround time, how long you took to approve or decline suggestions, was an indication to associates of management's commitment to the suggestion process. Here are some other key lessons learned:
- Liberal evaluations during the introduction phase will develop in people the habit of submitting frequent improvements and promote quick growth;
- Management's visible commitment and active support throughout all phases will emphasize the program’s importance;
- Rules should be clearly written and widely published before launching the program;
- Before launch, decide if you will allow team suggestions or participation by salaried personnel;
- Pilot the system in a small area before deploying it enterprise-wide to fine-tune processes and support systems needed to make a company-wide program robust;
- Train, train, train. You can never do too much.