By Mark Rounds, VP of Corporate Development
Most people think of a continuous improvement program as a way for a company to make big changes in their performance. Employees are asked to submit their great time-saving ideas to teams of managers who review the ideas. The best of the “big ideas” are then shared as “best practices” or introduced as new “policies” for employees to follow. Some companies give awards to the top submissions as a way to incentivize employees to submit their improvement ideas. (If you ask me, it seems like quite a hassle and a large expenditure of energy to get these ideas into practice).
What if there was a different way? What if – instead of focusing on how the company could do better – everyone spent their energy focusing on how they could do their own job better?
A lean organization aims to harness the creative thoughts and ideas of the workers. It will empower their workers to have control over their own daily operations and to look for ways to improve. The primary purpose of the improvement is to benefit the worker first. Any benefit to the company is a result of the worker’s improved performance. (And we are not talking about major improvements; it could be something as simple as reorganizing one’s own work space or using a different tool for the job).
In Paul Akers’ book, 2 Second Lean, he writes about asking every employee to find something they can improve upon every day. Think of all the tasks you perform all day. Where can you save 2 seconds? Hardly sounds like it is worth the effort. But do the math. If you saved 2 seconds today, how much would that save you over the year?
260 work days x 2 seconds = 520 seconds (about 8.5 minutes)
Ok, so 8.5 minutes in a year doesn’t sound like much? But what if the next day you found a way to save another 2 seconds? And then the day after that, you found another 2 seconds? Every day, you keep finding new tasks to save 2 seconds on for a whole year? This would equate to 33,960 seconds a year. That’s approximately 9.5 hours! Imagine saving over a day’s worth of time in one year. Just think of the savings if everyone at your company saved 2 seconds on a task every day!
In Akers’ book, the factory employees meet every morning and shared the improvement ideas they had. Some employees choose to implement the ideas at their own work locations. By sharing, they also have an opportunity to improve upon the idea. This continuous learning and developing of ideas gives the employees a sense of purpose within the team. In addition, Akers knew that if his employees are looking to get 2 seconds better every day, they would also find substantial continuous improvement ideas.
If you start by looking for the big ideas, you’ll likely never find them. But if you start by looking for the little ideas, the big ideas become more apparent. This combination of small daily wins combined with the occasional big win results in significant savings for a company. The empowerment that the employee feels is immeasurable. Everyone feels they are part of the team when they have the control to improve their work environment. Empowerment and engagement gives both the employee and the employer great benefit; both in morale and in production.
So, can you find a way to improve by 2 seconds today? I am sure you can. Start small: organize your work space, change your commute, or switch up your morning routine. As you keep looking for those little improvements, the big ideas will come. Look for your 2 seconds and save yourself a day’s worth of work this year.