Tag Archives: organizational development

Companionate Love in the Workplace

The holiday season often opens employees’ hearts to a level of warmth and caring for one another not commonly seen during other times of the year. Recent research shows, though, successful companies are finding that love and compassion are powerful forces for high performance all year round.

According to a study conducted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, “The more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are.” They’re not talking about romantic love, of course, but what they called “companionate love” which is characterized by warmth, affection and connection rather than passion. The title of the study is ”What’s Love Got to Do With It?: The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting.

Satisfied Employees = Satisfied Customers
Here’s what they learned. Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, and they showed up to work more often. The research also demonstrated that this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life and satisfaction.

The study offers numerous tips and guidelines on how to create a culture of caring that also produces high performance, but what’s most important are the little everyday things. According to Sigal and O’Neill, it’s “the small moments between coworkers, a warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear — day after day, month after month, that help create and maintain a strong culture of companionate love and the employee satisfaction, productivity, and client satisfaction that comes with it.”

Engagement by the Book
If you’re looking for a “novel” way to create a loving, caring culture, check out an approach offered by an organization called Books @ Work. They are hired by companies to bring professors into the workplace to foster critical thinking, nurture interpersonal connection and strengthen a culture of trust, respect and inclusion through the discussion of great literature.

They work with all types of groups from front-line workers to senior managers, and the response has been extraordinary. Here are a few examples:

  • “Once you get into it in the books, and start bringing your own experience in, you start to learn about other people on a much deeper level.” (Specialty Healthcare Facility)
  • “I realized that there’s a little more depth to some of these guys than I knew before, and hopefully they thought the same thing about me. It was interesting to sit with the team and talk about our own perspectives and have a professor to bring it into focus. It brought our work group closer together, opened up lines of communication, [and] broke down barriers.” (Machinists Team)
  • “The participating shift had higher employee engagement scores on the company’s last regular survey. What it does is bring people together. I’ve seen the culture change. We are interacting with one another, we are learning something that we didn’t know.” (Manufacturing and Distribution Team)

So when it comes to employee performance and business results, what’s love got to do with it? A lot more than most people realize.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

# # #

Tiny Pushes

Success results from the tiny pushes of dedicated employees
Success results from the tiny pushes of dedicated employees.

Helen Keller captured the importance of the so-called “little things” in the workplace with great insight and eloquence when she said:

“I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”  

We’ve all heard the old saying, “It’s the little things that count.”  As Keller wisely observed, that maxim applies to business as much anything else. With rare exception, though, it’s mostly discounted as a trivial bromide in the workplace.  Going for home runs is much more fashionable than cranking out base hits.

Linking Lean to Little Ideas 

Now, a new report provides compelling evidence that focusing on the micro things is not just a worthy pursuit.  It actually has a big impact on improvements at the macro level, too.  Performance improvement experts, Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder, first wrote about that premise in their book, “Ideas are Free,” published in 2004.  Recently, they provided more evidence for it in a paper entitled “The Role of Front-Line Ideas in Lean Performance Improvement” published in 2009 by the American Society of Quality in their Quality Management Journal.

According to their research, “the critical component that often is missing in underperforming lean initiatives is the ability to get large numbers of smaller improvement ideas from front-line employees.”

Bigger Doesn’t Equal Better

Going against the grain, most lean initiatives engage small numbers of people in working on short-term big improvements.  The most popular method for these big projects in the United States is the “kaizen event” or “kaizen blitz.”  In many companies, that’s their only method for lean improvement.  But the impact is often limited.  Aside from not being able to get many employees engaged in big kaizen events, the improvements typically don’t have much staying power. One study cited in the paper showed that up to 90 percent of the benefits of kaizen events disappear within six months.

By contrast, systems in which small, front-line-driven ideas were the main tool for improvement produced the most successful long-term lean operations.  According to the paper, it was this “ongoing and regular engagement with daily problems and opportunities, and the companies’ process-focused approaches … that built their lean cultures.”

Getting Employees Engaged 

In fairness, many companies realize how valuable employee engagement in continuous improvement efforts can be.  The challenge is how to get people tuned in and turned on to doing it as part of their daily work routine.  Here are some features we’ve discovered that generate greater employee engagement in making improvements as part of our ImaginAction Continuous Improvement System:

  • Create an incentive structure that places equal value on small and large improvements
  • Place the responsibility for approving and implementing smaller improvements with front-line supervisors, not a suggestion committee
  • Respond to the majority of employee ideas within 24 hours
  • Focus employees on small improvements within their own areas of responsibility, and give them responsibility for implementation, seeking assistance as needed from their supervisors

Based on their research, the authors estimate that in failing to focus on small, front-line ideas, a company could be ignoring as much as 80 percent of its lean improvement potential. In the end, it is both ironic and counterintuitive, but “small is big” when it comes to creating a culture of continuous improvement.

 #  #  #

To learn more about the ImaginAction Continuous Improvement System, download the ImaginAction System Guide.

A lesson for the ages.


Synergies result when teams work together
Synergies result when teams work together.

On April 1, a remarkable story in automotive history will come to an end. Well, not the story itself – it’s too good – but the 26-year-old “experiment” that created it will be a thing of the past.

It all began in 1984, when General Motors and Toyota decided to scratch one another’s proverbial backs with a joint venture called New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI). The primary motivation for Toyota was to get a foothold for manufacturing automobiles in the U.S. – mainly to stem the public outcry over U.S. auto jobs going to Japan. As for GM, they wanted to learn how to make high-quality small cars that were profitable – which the Japanese proved they could do. As a bonus, GM would also learn how to apply Toyota techniques in other plants throughout their operations.

From Worst to First
Most companies taking on that kind of venture would try it in a plant where they had a strong foundation to build on. Instead, they picked the worst plant in the GM system – in Fremont, California. It was so bad that GM had to shut it down completely two years earlier. Relations between labor and management were incessantly contentious and hostile. Some say they spent more time filing and fighting grievances than making automobiles. What’s more, the product quality was laughable. Cars wound up with the wrong bumpers, steering wheels missing, scratches and dents everywhere. Then they had another crew at the end of the line to repair all the defects.

So when NUMMI was announced, few people thought it would succeed. Not only did they reopen the problem plant – they hired back the same people, believing as Deming always said, problems aren’t about the people, but the system. Before they started operating, though, a sizeable contingent of workers went to Japan to learn the legendary “Toyota way,” working side-by-side with their Japanese “brothers.” It was a landmark event that transformed people’s lives.

You can learn about the details from many sources, including a recent story that ran on National Public Radio.  But at the end of their time together in Japan, a lot of grizzled, hard-bitten workers were literally in tears during the celebration they held before heading back to launch the Fremont operation. They had been given something few of them had known before – a sense of pride and purpose – and the impact on employee engagement proved to be profound.

Marketing is More about What You Do than What You Say
When production started, results were meteoric. Almost immediately, quality and productivity reached levels that paralleled other Toyota plants. Everyone noticed … many cheered … but for reasons that are hard to believe yet easy to understand, little changed for many years elsewhere at the U.S. automaker – despite considerable effort from numerous people within GM. By the time quality became the rule rather than the exception throughout the company a few years ago, it was too late. Even aggressive marketing efforts that touted improved quality initially failed to convince potential customers – too many years of exaggerated claims and poor performance.  Then just when GM started to recover, the economy collapsed, and they had to ask for bailout money to stay afloat.

Fremont is shutting down this week for two main reasons: GM pulled out of the venture in 2009, and Toyota decided it can handle U.S. production in other plants across the country. Although many are sad to see the plant close, its legacy continues. Perhaps the simplest and biggest lesson from NUMMI is that employee engagement and cooperative systems aren’t just nice things to have. They’re the cornerstone of business success – and the most compelling force for effective marketing a company can pursue.

# # #

Counting what counts.

Determining what matters can drive organizational focus
Determining what matters can drive organizational focus.

Measuring the value of communication has always been important. Today, it’s become something of an obsession, and it’s easy to understand why.  But instead of focusing on measuring the value of communications, communicators should concentrate on communicating about measures that people value.  Here’s an example of how a St. Louis-based winner of the Baldrige National Quality Award, Wainwright Industries, applied that principle.

Making data meaningful with “Mission Control.”
When they set their sites on the award, they knew they would have to collect a lot of data – and figure out how to share it throughout the organization.  The solution was inspired by NASA. The Wainwright team decided to post the data in a single room organized around priorities that came from input provided by employees. They called the room “Mission Control,” and it was designed to let all employees know how various aspects of the company’s performance are tracking at all times. Using color coded flags, the display provides instant awareness of emerging problem areas. What’s more, it activates a pre-set course of action if performance indicators fall below established benchmarks.

While it’s essentially a communication system, not many professional communicators would typically see it as part of their domain. Therein lies the proverbial rub – and the opportunity to be more relevant.


Measuring what matters to people.

When communicators measure their success in terms of functional indicators like media impressions, newsletter satisfaction ratings and similar measures, they’re not connecting with most employees who don’t care much about those measures.  Ultimately, the most vital function of organizational communications is to facilitate the exchange of data, information, and knowledge that support employees in doing their everyday jobs. That’s what most people care about – and that’s where communicators should focus much of their measurement efforts.

The first step is to ensure you’re focusing on relevant indicators.  Examples might be safety, employee learning and development, results of continuous improvement efforts, quality of products and services, defect and rework rates, results of employee opinion surveys, customer satisfaction, sales and margins, progress reports on employee profit-sharing and the like.

Sharing information so people see why it matters.

But all that data is useless without an effective system for sharing it.  In short, measurement needs to be supported with a communication system that spans the entire organization.  Communicators shouldn’t try to do it alone, though.  They should work closely with other key functions – human resources, organizational development, finance, quality, information technology, sales, marketing, customer service, etc.

The roles played by the people in this measurement and communication “orchestra” vary depending on numerous factors. Someone, though, has to take the lead and serve as the “conductor” who keeps the group operating in unison.  That role is ideally suited for communicators who can see their way out of their traditional boxes.

Regardless of who plays what role, several important elements have to be built into the design of an effective measurement and communication system:

  • Leading and lagging indicators
  • Frequent and timely
  • Simple
  • Visual
  • Relevant
  • Quantitative
  • Benchmarked
  • Action-based

Click here for a brief description of each of those elements.

It’s a big role to take on, but it’s worth it.  Beyond the merits of the system itself, communicators stand to be recognized more for the value of their work – and appreciated more for their contributions to the performance of the organization.

# # #

Don’t let intuition fool you.

In the last issue of Inside Out (Proof for the profitability of engagement), I talked about what it takes to get employees engaged in systematic continuous improvement.  I also cited recent research that proves the huge bottom line impact you can produce from doing it effectively.

After 15 years of benchmarking and refining a process that’s been used by several Baldrige Award winning companies, we’ve found that some of the “tried-and-true” principles for accomplishing that goal aren’t really so true after all.  In fact, what actually works – what makes an improvement process a fully integrated system instead of a one-off activity – is somewhat counterintuitive.

“Bigger” isn’t always “better.”
One classic flaw in most suggestion programs is the emphasis on hitting “home runs.”  It seems like it makes sense to focus on the big wins at first glance, but there are two problems with that notion.  First, big things are hard to plan and implement, and not many employees are equipped to take them on.  So it limits participation.  Second, when employees get bigger incentives for bigger improvements, that’s where they tend to focus their attention – and they wind up walking right past hundreds of smaller ideas – the “base hits” – along the way.

The counterintuitive key is to set up the incentive structure to value every idea equally regardless of its size and impact.  In our ImaginAction Continuous Improvement System, we use a random drawing to accomplish that goal.  For every approved improvement that an employee implements (not just suggests), his or her name is entered once into a bi-weekly drawing.   Depending on the size of the organization, approximately 10%-20% of the names are pulled each time.  Importantly, the value of the awards is very modest – usually no more than $50 – regardless of whether the idea saved $100 or $10,000.  The value of the award has absolutely nothing to do with the value of the improvement.

That approach works for several reasons:

  1. People aren’t wasting time trying to cost-justify a lot of small improvements that any well-trained supervisor can see right away will make things work better, faster, cheaper, cleaner, easier or safer.
  2. It keeps employees focused on the little things that they have control over.
  3. It emphasizes the intrinsic merits of the improvements and the inherent motivation that everyone has to make things work better rather than the “prize money.”
  4. In the end, the most motivating factor for employees is that someone is actually taking their ideas seriously, helping them get those ideas implemented, and thanking them for their contributions.

Committees aren’t close enough to the action.

If you want to make sure that employee suggestions get evaluated and implemented, set up a suggestion committee to review and approve everything – right?  Wrong!  Dilbert would have a field day with that notion.  Setting aside all the jokes about committees in general, let’s look at how that process typically works.

An employee comes up with an improvement idea and submits a suggestion.  After going to the supervisor and probably to a manager, the idea eventually works its way to the suggestion committee.  That “team” gets together maybe once every month or so to review a slug of suggestions.  Of course, they’re doing double-duty.  Not only do they have their own jobs to do, now they have to take on another load.  What’s more, they often don’t know much about the improvements that are being proposed, so they have to do some research.  By the time they finally make a decision, it’s been weeks or even months.  Employees lose interest, and they aren’t very motivated to submit additional ideas.

So what’s the alternative?  Keep it local – focusing most decision-making where the improvements will be implemented.  You make it the job of every supervisor to review, evaluate and approve or decline the vast majority of improvement ideas.  You also make it the responsibility of employees to get their ideas implemented.  If they need help from their supervisor or someone else, they can get it – but they “own” it.

Here’s another benefit of that approach.  It bolsters the role of the supervisor as a coach.  To optimize that role, supervisors need the right kind of skills, of course.  They have to learn how to evaluate improvement ideas, lead process improvement meetings, encourage employee participation, help people get their ideas implemented and acknowledge them for their contributions.  Those duties also need to be included in the supervisor’s job description and assessed as part of their performance reviews.

While the principles are basic, making the shift from a “suggestion program” to a more viable and vital “improvement system” is not easy or “intuitive” for most people.  But when that system produces dramatically more implemented improvements than a traditional program, the rewards far outweigh the effort.

 #  #  #