Archive | September 2015


People engagement is one of the most important things in a Lean implementation and, in general, it is a critical factor for any activity in any working environment. Surprisingly, “engagement” is a relatively new term in management. Almost nobody talked about it in the 80s; it became increasingly popular in the 90s and it has been a trending topic since then. Probably because it is so new, there’s much discussion about what engagement really means. Its definition has quickly evolved since the 90s, when engagement was related just with “performance”. Some years later “enthusiasm” and “passion” were added to the equation, and today passionate performance is a commonly accepted definition.

Engagement is more important than it seems. Engaged people really make the difference. Research shows that engagement has a great impact in a company’s performance: from innovation speed and retention to financial results (source: Towers-Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study):

Sadly, barely 1 in 4 employees (24%) are engaged on the job, according to Towers-Watson 2014 Global Workforce Study. The data is very consistent with their 2012 report, indicating that organizations still need to work in creating environments that promote people’s engagement.
Engagement percentage
Is a leader’s role important in people’s engagement? Absolutely. Engagement is an inner feeling (just like motivation is), therefore nobody can purely “engage” others. However, there are many environmental factors that heavily contribute and make engagement more probable. Reasearch shows that:
When neither managers nor leaders are perceived as effective, only 8% of employees are highly engaged. Not unexpectedly, in companies where both leaders and managers are perceived by employees as effective, 72% of employees are highly engaged. Companies with effective leaders as well as managers can expect to have more highly engaged employees.
Towers-Watson 2014 Global Workforce Study
The same study shows that the most important factors are base salary, development opportunities and job security (regardless of employee age):
Environment and leadership are so important because engagement is in many aspects a matter of perspective. Those companies that are transparent, communicate their strategies and develop their future plans with the participation of their employees (e.g. using Hoshin Kanri) are more likely to have an engaged workforce because people know they are part of something bigger than their own job. Your job may be “cutting stone into blocks”, but there is a very important psychological difference whether you think your goal is “cutting stone into blocks” or “building a cathedral”.
CathedralCan you know how engaged are your people? Partially. Intuition and communication play a key role here because people send signals constantly. In many cases it is possible to evaluate:
  • The engaged state for what people GIVE
  • The disengaged state for what people GET
The disengaged state can have very diverse origins, however there are 4 layers to care about to increase engagement:
  1. The individual (“I have personal problems”). Although they are not necessarily related to the job, personal problems kill engagement. It’s important to be ready and alert: 1 person out of 7 has a serious personal problem every year.
  2. The work (“I don’t like the work I do”). Nobody loves every aspect of his/her job, but if you hate everything about it, engagement is impossible. Correct work assignments are critical.
  3. The supervisor (“I’m not recognized”). Show people you care. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, said T. Roosevelt.
  4. The organization (“I don’t believe in the company values”). Company values matter. Really.
Engagement is important for you, your people and your organization. Take it seriously. Don’t be like this:

Lean principle #2: Learning to see


“Learning to see” is the name of one of the most influential lean books (link to the Lean Enterprise Institute store here and the Amazon page here). Learning to see is also one of the most important things to do when working with lean, especially to introduce Lean concepts in a new place. It is impossible to overemphasize how important it is. People are used to see their work using standard batch-and-queue principles, ignoring wastes, believing that wastes are part of the process and therefore impossible to eliminate. People think they are unique (this is true) and lean can not work for them (this is false). That’s why they must learn to see.

The biggest problem here is that people only see what they are looking for. Our brain likes working like that. This is called selective attention (“selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information”, according to Wikipedia) and is one of the root causes of people not seeing evident problems and wastes in the process they work everyday. There is a classic and very popular video that illustrates this idea. It is called the gorilla test and was developed by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999:

I have used this video from the Quirkology webpage many times to help understand the same idea: you only see what you are looking for:

Learning to see means changing the way you see the world and this takes time. It’s not something you make with just one training session or a kaizen event. It takes patience and continuous work. However it is critical to make people aware that things can be different, especially process experts. Experts know almost everything from the process but they might also be missing critical information just because their brains consider it irrelevant. Learning to see is a critical step that increases the quality of Lean work and the sustainability of the solutions.