“Morale” of the Story

Often times in continuous manufacturing improvement activities, only the machines and processes get the focus and the people are slapped back on the production line with little more than new instructions or even added responsibilities. When people are continuously dealing with alterations in what they are told to do and how to do it, it can become demeaning; you are changing the way they do their job that they have done everyday for possibly years. All of their skills and learned tricks for their job may have just been thrown out the door or replaced. An employee can feel replaceable or mistreated in this case, which lowers morale. It isn’t hard to believe that low morale leads to low productivity, lapses in concentration, and increased unplanned absences. All of these factors hurt your capacity, decrease safety, dampen improvement initiatives, and cause a void between management and labor. Therefore, high morale is important in any company for continued success and improvement.

Transparency and incorporation in the improvement process is key for maintaining higher morale. With transparency, at the very least, the employee gains exposure to the reasons why their responsibilities are changing. Accommodating the workers in this way can give them a sense of importance and helps them buy into the continuous improvement atmosphere. Intelligent employees like to be in the know and not be treated as inferior.

One step further than transparency is incorporation; allow your employees with the ability to provide input on the process and how it should be done. Not only is this beneficial in learning the ins and outs of the process (after all, that person deals with that process for hours on end per day), it is also beneficial for instilling confidence and min-maxing. Many times workers will find their own unique shortcuts to accomplish a task, even if it slightly differs from the standard procedures. If such shortcuts are deemed better ways to accomplish the task, then updating the standard procedure to match this technique is mutually beneficial to management and the employee; the employee is given recognition for his methods and management sees an increase in throughput. After this happens to this person once, he or she may feel encouraged to continue providing suggestions or giving feedback, which builds onto the lean culture of improvement. A culture of improvement creates a seamless connection between workers and management and can allow for streamlined improvement. Both, workers and managers, will feel easier to approach by the opposite party, which creates a positive work environment.

Kaizen, continuous improvement, and lean manufacturing should treat their processes as complex human-mechanical systems; humans are part of the process, not just users of the process. When using this mindset, utilization of talents can be maximized and morale increases; hence, workers will feel like an important cog in the process instead of just a circumstantial necessity. When a person is happier, they are more likely to speak up for improvement activities and may even be more encouraged to follow instructions. High morale, like low morale, can spread throughout a facility like wildfire. Something as simple as morale can be the difference between lean success and lean failure.

Additional Resources