Worldwide only 15% of employees are engaged in their job. An astonishing two-thirds are not engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged. These numbers should be a talking point in every board room, because employee engagement directly impacts organizational outcomes. A workforce that is psychologically invested in their jobs are motivated to be highly productive. A disengaged workforce actively increases risk in employee safety, patient safety, quality incidents and profit.

Figure from Gallup's STATE OF THE GLOBAL WORKPLACE 2017

We know this intuitively and the statistics back it up. What we don't know is how to fix it. That's because there's no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. Each organization is unique. Identifying the right solutions for your staff isn’t easy, and in fact is the wrong approach. Top-down driven campaigns to motivate your workforce rarely work. At best, these have a neutral effect on productivity; at worst it can accelerate you in the wrong direction. For the greatest chance of success, enable your teams to find the right solutions themselves, with appropriate governance and guidance.

To do this, it's imperative to develop a system for teams to self-identify problems, introduce changes, adopt new ways and innovate. These systems go by different names - Operational Excellence Management System (OEMS), Integrated Work System (IWS), Lean Six Sigma (L6S). Whichever acronym you choose, there are a few principles they all follow that should be embedded at every level of the organization:

Celebrate ideas. As one Team Leader said to me "It's always good to be heard and what you say is welcomed as well." Submitting an idea is different to being heard. Forget the suggestion box in the lunchroom - enable people to offer ideas in the moment, wherever they are. Make it simple and fast - online systems using tablets are ideal for this. Every employee should be able to identify and link the idea to a business goal. At the next team meeting, ask the team member that raised the idea to talk to it. They may resist, but it's a coaching moment - give encouragement, recognition and praise.

An idea that is raised by the frontline, linked to a business goal and validated by leadership will secure team buy-in by the time they're asked to implement it, and have the greatest chance of execution success.

Consistent feedback. Annual or quarterly performance reviews weren't designed for frontline employees. The intent is great - consistent, regular, and meaningful feedback, but that's increasingly difficult as layers of management are consolidated leaving little time for the preparation required. A good system will take care of the preparation, enabling leadership to instantly retrieve results at the team and individual level. Leaders should be looking to give feedback in the moment, encourage employees to review and analyse their own results and also observe good behaviours.

Let the communication flow. By far the biggest contributing factor to a disengaged workforce that I see is the invisible barriers of communication flow. Escalating issues can be life and death matters in healthcare, equally in manufacturing and other industrial settings. This is perceived as a throw-the-arms-up problem.  However, it's not difficult - but does take discipline (hence embedding a system is critical). Tiered meetings, or huddles, are effective. One manufacturing client has 7am team meetings and an 8am leadership meeting each morning. At the 8am they review escalated safety, quality and other daily activities. And also sales. They're meeting production forecasts, improving safety and quality month-on-month, year-on-year to record levels. Information is power, and team empowerment equals engagement.

Develop your people. The business environment is changing with the introduction of new technologies. These are additive when combined with the frontline, giving you considerable flexibility, leverage and competitive advantage. Provide your teams visibility of the 'What' - using IoT, big data - and ensure the system assists them with the next steps (the 'So what'). Develop their problem-solving skills, actively encourage collaboration, and take action on the insights. I'm a big believer that all the required knowledge is in the building. We should be asking people to use their minds, not just their arms and legs, and then their heart will be in it too.

You have a culture, whether you consciously build it or not. Embedding a system ensures you set the direction, provides a consistent approach and develops self-sustaining teams. Make no mistake - getting it right takes considerable ongoing effort. What you can do each day is select a principle to focus on, and continuously tune your Operational Excellence system.


TeamAssurance is an Operational Excellence Management System designed on principles that build a healthy and resilient operations culture. Contact us to find out more.