As you know, working on your Operational Excellence has many important positive effects, like continuously improving your safety, quality, productivity and last but not least your bottom line. But did you know, that a well developed system of Operational Excellence can boost your Employee Experience in a powerful and sustainable way? Why and how this is the case, we will describe in this article and discuss the following connections:
- Focus on Safety and Well Being
- Focus on Continuous Improvement and sense of control
- Focus on Continuous Learning and growth
- Trust, Respect, Teamwork and a sense of belonging
What is Operational Excellence?
In their ground breaking book “The machine that changed the world” Womack & Jones coined the term Lean Management and laid the foundation for Lean and Operational Excellence proficiency. They defined Lean thinking as, “a way to identify value, organize value adding operations in the optimal order and execute all activities without interruption, whenever needed, and continuously improve how it is done.”
There is and has been wide spread misunderstanding about lean thinking and operational excellence. While most focus is put on the processes and tools that build the system, the importance of the lean mindset and culture was often neglected. In my doctoral dissertation “Organizational Culture and Effectiveness of Production Systems” I investigated the link between the two. In my research I found clear evidence, that it is not possible to reach beyond a certain (sub optimal) level of production system effectiveness without specific culture elements in place.
Crucial culture elements for effective production systems, like trust and respect, teamwork, involvement also indicate, how Operational Excellence can boost your Employee Experience. Lets explore this further.
What is Employee Experience?
Under Employee Experience we describe “the way in which employees internalize and interpret the interactions they have with their organization, as well as the context that underlies those interactions”. This can be grouped in three main building blocks:
- Social experience
- Work Experience
- Organization Experience
Obviously, all of these experiences are also heavily shaped by your Operational Excellence System. Lets have a closer look.
How Operational Excellence can boost your Employee Experience
Focus on Safety and Well-Being as the top priority
An employee’s organization experience is established by an aligned purpose between company and employee. It also includes the use of technology that allows efficient contribution to relevant processes and a physical environment that is safe and comfortable.
In a well-functioning Operational Excellence System, a focus on the safety and well-being of all team members is the top priority. It is not a coincidence that Toyota is widely recognized as a leader in safety within automotive industry and beyond. One of the key factors setting them apart is the strong safety culture and safety first mindset embedded throughout all operations and processes, from design to training of employees. An employee getting hurt during work or having to work in unhealthy conditions is considered one of the worst management failures. (Another would be letting your customer down by delivering poor quality).
This safety mindset also determines a strong aligned purpose and mindset of caring for each other (company – employee – colleagues) which is easy to sense when talking to employees in companies with high level of operational excellence.
Focus on Continuous Improvement and sense of control
The employee work experience describes the way how work is organized. It includes clear responsibilities, sufficient resources as well as the level of flexibility and control you have regarding your own tasks.
In a well-functioning Operational Excellence System, daily continuous improvement of all processes and work places is the ultimate goal. One of the key factors setting excellent companies apart is, that they consider the person doing an operation or task as the ultimate expert to improve it. Therefore, it is important that everybody is trained in simple tools for work place organization, continuous improvement and problem solving and gets the necessary support while using them. Obviously this creates a strong sense of control over your own task and destiny, which is an important factor for work satisfaction and a sense of belonging.
Focus on continuous learning and growth
The employee work experience also includes the growth opportunities you are offered in exchange for your commitment as an employee.
Excellent companies like Toyota are widely known for their extensive employee training efforts and approach to grow leaders from within. It is rather the exception, that leadership or management positions are filled via external recruitment. One reason is to ensure, that the positive culture is not diluted, but the other is a strong believe in training, growing and developing employees. Continuous learning and improvement is a core value, and employees who demonstrate those values are likely to find opportunities for growth and advancement within the company.
Trust, Respect and Teamwork
Under social experience, we include the people you will meet and the relationships you can build within an organization. Further, the level of teamwork you experience when interacting with your colleagues and as a result the sense of belonging you feel.
It is little known, that the early name for the Toyota Production System was the “Respect for Humanity System”, and that in The Toyota Way, which is Toyotas own description of their culture, the term “respect” is even mentioned twice in their seven core elements.
Efficient operational excellence systems require cooperation and teamwork in applying the tools and methods to improve safety, quality and productivity. Therefore, an unbiased search for waste and improvement becomes a necessity. If people feel respected and empowered, they will be self-confident to work without resistance or fear. High self-esteem allows to perform better as individual and team.
As a summary, we can compare the main factors of Employee Experience and their Operational Excellence connection.
This comparison makes clear, how a well implemented system of operational excellence can boost your employee experience. Here are some practical tips how you can take advantage of those positive effects:
Practical Examples how you can boost your employee experience via operational excellence
- Search for and eliminate waste in your organizations employee experience. This can be defined as everything in your processes that hinders people to have a positive experience and minimizes their ability or willingness to contribute to improvement. Examples can be inefficient processes, tools and technologies, poor teamwork and silo thinking, not using the potential of your employees etc.
- Use your continuous improvement mind set also for improvement of your employee experience. Apply the PDCA Cycle to define your employee experience targets, plan the steps to get there and regularly check your achievements. Don’t forget to use your problem solving process in case of deviations.
- Make a simple audit of your employee experience and include the above mentioned Operational Excellence Key Elements in your observations. You can capture the perception of your employees via surveys, focus groups, feedback from former employees and job applicants as well as exit interviews. You can use this simple framework for Employee Experience assessment.
- Make sure to integrate your work with operational excellence and the positive implications for employees in the definition of your Employee Value Proposition. Communicate and explain to new employees and potential candidates in the recruitment process.
- Make an assessment of your Excellence Culture maturity level. You can use the elements of the culture model of effective production systems for your evaluation. The higher the maturity level of your excellence culture, the more you can trust that this will contribute to a positive employee experience. For this part it might be helpful to get an external view to prevent operational blindness.
- If you want to know more and how to avoid common mistakes in Lean implementation, you might be interested in our earlier blog about the 7 most common Lean mistakes. If you want to learn more about Employee Experience and how to create a powerful Employee Value Proposition in your Employer Branding, you can read 3 simple steps to improve your Employee Experience.