(This is the fourth in a series of deeper dives into the 8 lean wastes.)
For many years, and even somewhat to this day, folks believed the primary seven lean wastes were those that could be seen by the naked eye and simple to understand. It’s easy to grasp the concepts of excess inventory, overproduction, waiting, transportation, etc. because they can be attached to a dollar figure impact or can be quantified.
However, a new waste has been introduced and it can have just as big of impact – the wasting of your employees’ knowledge and new ideas.
What exactly does this mean?
Employee knowledge refers to the experience and “tribal” information that the actual users of the process possess – the folks that know the most about how the ticket office operates or the concession stands function would be the folks who actually run those offices and stands. If you want to know where the condiments are stored or the phone number of the team’s supplier of printed team materials, you’re more likely to get a quicker and more accurate answer from the concession worker or the folks who actually make those phone calls than going to the team president or general manager.
Along those same lines, the folks who use and own the processes are the ones who are most likely to introduce ways to complete those processes better with new ideas. A ticket operator might know a method to save time for customers in line by rearranging items on the computer desktop or at the ticket window. The front desk receptionist might know of a slick way to distribute sponsorship calls to the account executives so sales opportunities are presented fairly.
Okay, so how is this wasteful?
Having employees with good ideas and experience is valuable, and the worst thing to do is to ignore it all.
If an employee generates a new idea and brings it to you, and you ignore it or (even worse) criticize it, how likely is that employee to come up with an idea for you to help you improve? It’s important to remember that employees truly are fellow team members, and that they genuinely want to succeed and do well. If he or she didn’t believe their idea had merit, they wouldn’t have presented it.
Do new ideas have to be implemented? No, but it’s important to at least consider them for usefulness and validity. You may be presented with nine ideas that you have to turn down, but what if that tenth idea that slides across your desk is a good one? If you encourage and enable your employees to be creative and try new ideas, the odds of good ideas being brought forth will go up significantly. You want ideas – make it easy for your employees to give them to you.
And knowledge can be wasted if that knowledge is not put to good use or shared with others. For example, let’s say there’s only one person that knows how to use the ticketing program database and how to activate/deactivate it or how to reset it in the event a ticketing computer crashes. What if that person is out sick? (Trust me – I’ve seen this happen before.) What if that person finds another job? That unshared knowledge is no longer in the building – how will you replace it? Sharing knowledge and training employees across multiple functions and duties is critical to protecting against lost knowledge.
How can you prevent ideas and knowledge from being wasted? To avoid the loss of “tribal knowledge” and experience, the best way to communicate this information is through writing it down. Create standardized work documentation that is stored on a computer or database. Make this information easy to access and update as tools and methods are improved. Generate training based on this documentation so that everyone is performing the processes in the same manner – if employees are trained to the best process available, you should expect to get optimal results no matter who is performing the operation.
Also, make sure employees are empowered enough to share new ideas and present them to fellow operators and management. We’re all learning every day, and the way we operate continues to change with new ideas and technology that is presented to us. Those ideas don’t just come from managers and “experts” – they also come from peers, subordinates, and even outsiders. The idea is the most important thing to consider for validity, as opposed to the source.
(Yes, the relevance and motivations of the source should be examined, but look at the idea first.)
An empowered work force cares about the success of the organization, just like you do. Their experience, knowledge, and ideas are like gold. Please treat them as such.