Sam Keller's TEC Blog

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting Constructive Solutions from Front-Line Employees

Well run manufacturing companies have long known that some of the best ideas for process improvement come from front line employees. Many, if not most successful companies have a process that takes a quality, safety or customer service problem or incident, finds the root cause and takes preventative measures that ensure that the issue does not occur again. A key part of the success of this process is having a culture in place that encourages participation throughout the organization.

Harvard Professors Julia Rose Adler-Milstein, Sara J. Singer, and Michael W. Toffel, recently completed a study titled "Speaking Up Constructively: Managerial Practices that Elicit Solutions from Front-Line Employees".

The authors report "This study is among the first to develop and empirically test theory about how specific management practices can encourage employees to speak up about operational problems they witness. Our findings provide evidence that (a) employees speak up more often and offer more solutions when managers promote this behavior through information campaigns and through their own engagement in problem-solving activities and (b) these managerial behaviors may be considered substitutes." In other words, either an information campaign or managerial engagement will work.

The authors further state that "By identifying specific managerial behaviors, this study empowers managers to adjust their approaches to engaging workers in problem solving, which in turn can provide them with new sources of information about opportunities to improve work systems. In organizations that can learn from mistakes, this information can spark a virtuous cycle of performance improvement."

These results are no surprise to us in manufacturing. I found it interesting that the study was of the health industry, suggesting that practices common to manufacturing have much broader application.

Click here for the complete text of the study.

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