Recently, I became acquainted with a gentleman who had researched the link between continuous improvement and engagement. Since this is a topic that has been near and dear to me for many years, it was delightful to spend time with someone who has a similar passion for this work. 

Engagement has always been viewed as a topic owned by HR and was the focus of many of my past HR roles.Throughout my career I have been involved in HR and operational roles which included continuous improvement or Lean, and even with these experiences the connection between the two concepts was not obvious to me for some time.

Somewhere along the way, it struck me that the reason these two concepts tend to be disconnected is that they are often led by two different areas. For example, generally HR does not own the key drivers of improvement, and operations managers are typically not in charge of driving overall team engagement.

In addition, people often have limited awareness of which factors drive engagement, or how it affects an organization’s financial success. All of this has led to HR not making the connection that continuous improvement efforts are an obvious way to increase engagement.

Making The Connection

If people understood that Lean is in essence a driver of engagement, they would be more convinced that it deserves a significant investment of their time and resources. Team members who are engaged are excited to grow and improve, and this improved engagement benefits the organization as a whole. While the definitions of engagement vary, they all generally speak to the following five main drivers: 

  1. Connecting people to the bigger vision
  2. Providing opportunities to learn and develop
  3. Creating positive relationships with direct supervisors
  4. Ensuring people are well-equipped to perform duties 
  5. Team members Ideas are considered


The Bigger Vision

Those who know and understand Lean would certainly agree that it supports all of the drivers of engagement. For example, Hoshin Kanri and the strategic planning system aligns people to the voice of the customer, or values from the point of view of the customer, connecting people to the bigger picture. 

Learn and Develop

Certainly, continuous improvement skills and events provide people with many opportunities to learn and develop. Beyond learning the initial concepts, the foundation of improvement is to learn from daily activities and work towards improved results. In essence, cycles of learning propel progress. These same learning activities also meet other needs that drive engagement, such as the sense of community and belonging that comes from teamwork.

Positive Relationship with Managers

Lean leadership develops leaders who inspire people, versus those who tell people what to do. As leaders master the ability to coach and develop their team members, it makes sense that the relationships with their team improve. 

No one likes being told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. When leaders encourage their teams to become more skilled at working together without leadership hand-holding, they foster positive relationships. 

Well Equipped for Work

Certainly process improvement should address typical workplace issues and provide opportunities for individuals to address pain points in their work. Lean provides ample opportunity and encouragement to locate problems and involve everyone in addressing them. Over time, continuous improvement should expand and empower people to effectively resolve issues rather than relying on a few leaders to identify and fix things for everyone. 

All Ideas are Considered

Lean by its very definition involves the art of harvesting ideas from everyone on the team and involving them in the implementation of those ideas. Whether there is a formal approach for documenting ideas and tracking how they are implemented or not, improvement efforts are fueled by team member input. Engaging and empowering the team for creative solutions.

In our next blog, we will discuss and review the financial benefits of engagement and its potential effect on ROI (Return on Investment). 

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