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Continuous Improvement Is About Engaging Employees

Not very long ago Honeywell was a troubled company. Several years ago Honeywell changed how it operated by focusing on continuous improvement and engaging all levels of employees. The new management approach, which also involved the implementation of Six Sigma has had a positive impact.

Every department in Honeywell, including the smallest shop-floor unit starts the day with a short meeting (under 15 minutes) to identify problems and ideas for improvements, which are then pushed up to senior managers. All workers are expected each month to come up with two implementable ideas for doing things better.

This simple form of communication and tapping into employee ideas has reaped huge benefits for Honeywell as explained in a recent Economist article.

Sales in 2011 were 72% higher than in 2002, and its profits doubled to $4 billion. It used to take 42 days to make and deliver a sophisticated toxic-gas detector, for clients including Intel and Samsung; now it takes ten. The production process used to consume the factory floor; now, it uses merely a quarter of it. This has freed up the rest of the factory to make lots of other products.

In my 17 years of government experience it was a rare event where employee ideas were sought to improve how services were delivered. An important part of Toyota’s and Honeywell’s success has been the constant feedback sought and obtained from employees on how to produce products better. While many companies do not solicit and implement employee ideas, Toyota implements an average of nine ideas per employee per year.

We need more elected officials and department heads in government who are willing to communicate with and listen to ideas from employees and citizens on how to improve the operation of government. We need government officials who are willing to move beyond setting up a suggestion box.


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