Last week we set the stage for reasons to address the waste of human potential. The current state is that the American workforce engagement is at 33%, startlingly low compared to the 70% result for the world's best companies. We are significantly disadvantaged when two-thirds of the American workforce is not engaged in their work. The results are worse in manufacturing, with only 25% of employees experiencing workplace engagement. With a focus on continuous improvement, we will explore the first step of the work necessary to maximize a workforce.
Leaders interested in developing an environment of trust must embrace that waste in human potential exists in their organization. Taiichi Ohno is known for influencing and leading the Toyota Production System (TPS) development, known as lean manufacturing. There was initially the identification of seven types of waste. However, the previous definition of waste focused on that which added no value to the customer. Arguments exist as to the validity of the addition of this eighth one. I would argue that if the maximization of the workforce falls short, then the cost of the products or services that the customer purchases is higher than necessary. Thus, this form of waste is of no value to the customer. With a non-value add number close to ninety percent, Ohno would likely not object to adding this as an eighth waste. He stated that there were 493 more to eliminate, not an exact number, but one to express that there are a significant number of them to stamp out.
Developing a culture with a high level of workforce engagement requires a foundation of trust in the organization's leadership. Being placed in a leadership role does not automatically equate to earning the respect of a workforce. A position at the top of the organizational chart comes with a responsibility to develop a work environment that is collaborative, ethical, transparent, and trustworthy. Leaders must be mindful of the reality that trust is gained over time with an expectation by employees that they consistently perform in a manner worthy of respect and loyalty. Five ways to earn these include:
1. Setting the standard with a consistently strong work ethic – Employees expect to see actions supporting the leader's words. Employees will mirror the actual work ethic they see in their leader.
2. Not being afraid to take risks and willing to admit wrongdoing – Risk-taking is necessary to move a company from its current state to a more desirable future. However, the leader must openly take responsibility for the wrongdoing outcome when the risk does not play out as planned.
3. Sponsoring high-potential employees and serving others rightly – Stepping up to support the top workers comes with some level of risk for a leader but allows them to reach their highest potential. The leader is also responsible for putting others in a position to achieve their highest success.
4. Exhibiting a powerful executive presence with a long-lasting impact – Leaders who make a lasting impact have authentic trust in themselves, allowing them to live their personal brand. People notice their passionate and positive effects when they enter a room.
5. Having their employees' backs while deflecting their recognition – Employee trust in their leadership is driven partly by being authentically recognized and rewarded for their work. Additionally, leaders should deflect praise for themselves and place it on the workforce.
Influential executives understand the importance and fully embrace the responsibility to develop an organizational culture that establishes an environment of employee trust in their leaders.
While there are ways to earn the workforce's trust, knowing if it is becoming a reality is essential. So while we could ask them how they feel about us, a way to get a more authentic and reliable sense of success is to ask the following questions:
1. Do people say "no" to you? – If we only hear yes to our questions, trust is not present.
2. Do you use high-trust language? – Our words should include "we" over "I" and "teammates" instead of "employees."
3. Are failures and lessons learned publicized across the company? – An environment with a tolerance for honest mistakes supports employees to take calculated risks and encourages creative thinking.
4. Do people live the company values? – The actions and words of all team members at all levels show that they are accomplishing the work in alignment with organizational expectations.
5. Is information open and easy to find? – All company members can readily gain access to the knowledge necessary to complete their jobs successfully in an overall environment of trust.
6. Does everyone know what the business is focusing on and how it's performing? – All team members should clearly understand the organization's vision and be seen carrying it out in their work.
7. Do team members share company news on their social channels? – An outcome of trust in the organization is that the people post information that shows they are proud to be a company member.
8. Is it easy to give and invite feedback at any time? – The leader should hear team members respectfully asking challenging questions that those receiving them embrace as an opportunity to improve their work.
9. Do you crowdsource strategy and major initiatives? – An invitation to those at all levels asking to receive feedback from them to improve the company should see meaningful contributions from many team members.
10. Is it easy to connect with you? – There must be an open-door policy where team members feel comfortable sharing something important.
When leaders can answer an affirmative to most of these questions, then a culture of trust should exist. However, the work requires constant vigilance and ongoing proactive responses to any issues that can damage the trust environment.
Leaders that desire full engagement of their team members must first develop an environment of trust at all levels and across all areas of the organization. While a challenging task, it is a responsibility we should be willing to embrace as that allows those in our care to maximize their full human potential.
Individuals interested in understanding the level of trust in their organization can use the ten questions above to assess the current state of this essential element of workplace engagement in the organization. Team members can be encouraged to complete a survey using these questions and add a Likert scale or a 1-10 scale where one is the lowest possible score, and ten is the highest. The results will be a baseline and can be used to develop initiatives that will improve the overall level of organizational trust.
I am grateful to organizations like Gallup that conduct research that provides information on the current state of the workforce. Yes, the results are initially discouraging. However, a tremendous opportunity exists for leaders that embrace significantly improving their company's potential by eliminating this critical responsibility to maximize the potential of our team members.
Next week's blog will continue to explore steps to lessen the waste of human potential as it relates to humanist manufacturing.
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