Culture, part 4.  We’ve fought the fight to turn our compliant culture into an involvement culture.  We’ve strung together a series of small successes that now has everyone excited about your improvement efforts.  But now, with your kaizen team spread thin facilitating improvement activities throughout your workplace, things seem to have reached a plateau just shy of the summit.  You hear people talk about the last improvement event and how much fun it was; how energizing it was.  But it seems like they are waiting for the Kaizen team to return before they will be allowed to do any more improvements!

I’ve seen this live and in person in a couple of businesses.  What should be a relatively easy step from excitement to engagement, turns out to be a climb.  Why is this hard?

The distinction between a culture of excitement and a culture of engagement is self-determination.  In the first case, people aren’t convinced that improvement is their job.  They like it, but they wait for some prompt before they take the next action.


Maybe it’s a concern about resources.  With the kaizen team comes attention, support, money.  When they go at the end of the week, there’s almost a vacuum in the improved work area.  In lots of cases, that vacuum means the process degrades.  It ends up at a level only slightly better than it was before the event after about 6 months.

Maybe it’s fear.  The kaizen team helped the team make a big adjustment.  They required a certain way to track certain metrics or present certain information.  People get conditioned to believe that if they try something different, they’ll get into trouble for messing with what the kaizen team did.

Maybe it’s permission.  If leaders haven’t specifically told people that it’s okay to implement good ideas and improve every process, people probably won’t do it.  We should emphasize that, not only is it OKAY to do, we EXPECT it.  We acknowledged it.  We reward it.

I’ve seen lots of organizations with systems to capture employee ideas.  In almost every case, the idea has to go to some higher level management or engineering team for “evaluation” and planning.  These more often than not delay the implementation of good ideas or leave people frustrated because someone rejected their idea.

The key thing to remember is that your problem collection system and your idea management system are not operational systems.  These are components of your learning system.  We use the problems and ideas as vehicles to build problem solving skills in the workplace.  We have to solve problems and implement ideas where they occur, with individuals being coached by their peers or leaders.  Once this system is on its feet, then we will have a mechanism to help us climb from excitement to engagement.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, send an email to us.