Contribution, Improvement and Culture

How vital is the contributive energy in your firm? Are all of your employees bringing ideas for improvement forward on a regular basis, without prompting or having “improvement events” orchestrated? Are your employees engaged in making improvements happen and do they have responsibility for implementing good ideas? Do your employees think about your customers, their work, and how to make the work go better to satisfy the customer?

If not, you probably have a low contributive energy within your firm. Eliciting contribution from all who work in a firm is an executive leadership and management function. Leaders and managers have a responsibility, and an obligation, to provide a sense of purpose and context that is sufficiently compelling so that those who work in an organization will be disposed to contribute towards its fulfillment. What else is improvement but changes made in pursuit of a purpose or goal?

Many firms work hard at improvement. but are much less good at gaining contribution from members. If you have to orchestrate improvement events to make improvement happen, you are missing the real point of continuous improvement.

All improvement is done with, through, and by people. If people have to be coerced into participating in improvement events, this is antithetical to the spirit of real improvement. The miracle of the best Japanese firms is not the improvement tools and techniques they use, it is the frequent and regular contribution they get for improvement from employees in all areas of their organizations.

Building a culture where all employees are induced to contribute their ideas for improvement is not easy. The organization’s purpose must be clear and compelling. Leadership and management behaviours must be congruent with that which encourages employees to bring ideas forward. Reward and feedback systems must be such that many small ideas are valued over few, breakthrough ideas. And the organization must be prepared to delegate some responsibility and accountability to employees for implementing their ideas.

The quickest way for a firm to improve its economic performance is for it to start eliciting, and using, ideas for improvement which come from workers. Those closest to the work are the ones who know best how it can be made to go better. This is the quickest way to drive down costs and add value to customers. And, no improvement events are needed!

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