Are You Empowered?

Today, even the most clockwork of tasks, like factory floor labor, can benefit from some degree of innovation and creative thinking. There are even some companies that are taking ideas from individual workers and improving the way things work. This can work well with jobs that are repetitive and subject to automation efforts.

The less people’s jobs can be automated, however, the more you need them to take initiative. When someone’s job isn’t easily automated, there is a need for innovation and creative thought. Despite the evidence of all these studies, few managers are willing to take this leap. Today, only a small percentage of workers feel empowered and act resourcefully; most feel disenfranchised or locked down.

What might be worse is that CEOs and management often feel they are encouraging innovation and creative work. I think managers, team leads, and even the most productive people on a team,  often don’t realize how much they can dampen others’ desire or ability to contribute. While some of this might be malicious action on the part of someone, I think often it’s just a lack of understanding and empathy for how others view the world.

To make yourself heard, often we expect you to be a loud, strong voice. That doesn’t always work, but it also seems to conflate the idea of being loud or forceful with competency.

Some of the smartest people I know are those that are soft spoken, polite, and careful about what comments they make. Allowing them to share their thoughts and provide input has often proved to be a good decision on my part.

Steve Jones

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1 Response to Are You Empowered?

  1. Jeff Moden says:

    As Steve Jobs is quoted as having said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

    Line workers also play an important role and they just need to realize that they’re implicitly enabled to make improvements. Companies with assembly lines frequently have a “suggestion” program that pays employees for suggestions if implemented.

    I have a cousin that used to work at GM Truck & Bus in Pontiac, Michigan. One day, 2 of the 3 tire balancing systems went down and that would have cut production way down. The “Tire Room” (as they called it) filled up with executives and white-collar Industrial Engineers to determine a solution. It turned out that the two tire balances had different parts go bad and the engineers decided that they’d have replacement parts helicoptered in. That process was going to take about 24 hours. My cousin was previously in the military (B-52 maintenance) and worked in the “Tire Room”. He knew that having 2 online would keep production up and made the “Cannibalization” suggestion that everyone in the military knows… take a good part from one of the bad machines and use it to get the other bad machine up and running. They were back online in less than an hour. My cousin had heaps of praises thrown at him. He and I were both amazed that a room half full of engineers couldn’t figure that out.

    Listen to the people on the floor, especially if they’re “old”… they know stuff that you just can’t imagine that a “shop rat” (an endearing term amongst the people on the floor) might know even if they don’t have a sheepskin.


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