People Drive Continuous Improvement

April 10, 2009 - Tags:

Toyota invests in people and in return it gets committed associates who show up to work every day and on time and are continually improving their operations. On one of my visits, I found that in the past year at the Toyota, Georgetown, assembly plant associates made about 80,000 improvement suggestions. The plant implemented 99% of them.

So how can you get your employees to work diligently to do their jobs perfectly and strive to improve every day? Build a system that follows Toyota Way who follow your company’s philosophy by first looking at the system dynamics of your organization. Building excellent people who understand and support your company’s culture is not a matter of adopting simple solutions or an afterthought of applying motivational theories. Training exceptional people and building individual work groups needs to be the backbone of your management approach, an approach that integrates your social systems with your technical system. Throughout this article, you have seen how one-piece flow drives positive problem-solving behaviors and motivates people to improve. However, you need a social system and culture of continuous improvement to support this behavior.

Of course, you cannot pull a ready-made culture out of a wizard’s hat. Building a culture takes years of applying a consistent approach with consistent principles. It includes the foundational elements of Maslow. People must have a degree of security and feel they belong to a team. You must design jobs to be challenging. People need some autonomy to feel they have control over the job. Moreover, there seems to be nothing as motivating as challenging targets, constant measurement and feedback on progress, and an occasional reward thrown in. The rewards can be symbolic and not all that costly. In the end, building exceptional people and teams derives from having in place some form of a “respect for humanity system.”