HR got out there. The Continuous Improvement Manager got out there. Come on people, we want your ideas! “Fill out the forms and give us your ideas,” we chanted. Not every organization wants to hear from their associates, but we did. Why weren’t they engaged? Why weren’t they giving us their ideas?

As an organization on the Continuous Improvement journey, we wanted our associates to truly be engaged. We started this journey by “spreading the word” – providing much training on Lean foundations, 5S, and waste identification. We figured one great way to measure engagement would be with people submitting ideas. If they submitted, and implemented ideas, then our associates would be engaged in our continuous improvement journey. If we gave them the tools, they would come!!

Our thoughts were quickly dampened. After the training, the ideas still weren’t coming. Associates didn’t seem engaged. They had information, but they couldn’t seem to take the information they learned and put it into action. Why wasn’t this happening?

We learned many lessons out of this approach.

* Training Does Not Equal Utilization. Although we provided training that people enjoyed, when we asked people why they weren’t using it, we received responses such as, “I don’t have time,” or “I don’t know where to start.” Providing the knowledge is only one step, giving an opportunity to utilize the knowledge is another step.

* Someone Else Has Better Ideas. Through discussions, we realized that although we wanted the engagement, it was a culture that needed to be cultivated. That meant spending time, as HR, to help people know that THEY are valued and that THEY have the answers – not their management team.

* Even a System to Gain Ideas is Needed. When we started to understand the value of standard work and structured problem solving, we realized we also needed a system to gain people’s ideas. Asking for “free flowing” ideas when there is so much else to be focused on wasn’t helping the engagement.

To see how we developed an Idea Generation that got people engaged, look for a future blog post~~


Susan Kamacho is the Human Resources Manager at Gemline’s company headquarters in Lawrence, MA.    Susan has been actively engaged in continuous improvement efforts throughout her career, especially from the training and development perspective.  Creating training programs that focus on consistent on-the-job learning activities as well as integrating new skills into the work environment, Susan has observed the results of moving company cultures to strong engagement communities.  By utilizing continuous improvement tools and philosophies, Gemline’s Human Resource Department continues to integrate process and people into an engaged culture.