The Kaizen way to employee engagement | Contributor

By Collin McLoughlin
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

Imagine for a moment a workplace where every single employee, from the president to the janitor, was thrilled to be at work and excited to tackle today’s challenges. This is not some idealized dream, it is accomplishable by changing the way we approach employee engagement.

Today, more than 70 percent of your workforce—your coworkers, employees and managers—are not fully committed to their work.

Imagine a football team where only three players actually wanted to win, and the rest were going through the motions, or worse, passing the ball to the other team. We are stuck in a rut, and the best way to re-engage our workers is by tapping their creative potential.

Employee engagement is difficult to define and even harder to create, but it is absolutely essential to a highly functioning organization. Organizations with engaged employees are safer, more productive and far more successful.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I think it is essential that we answer the simple question: What is employee engagement?

In my years as a business consultant, I’ve found hundreds of answers. But, for me, the simplest answer is the best.

Engaged employees are ones who want to apply their discretionary efforts to their work. That means they are thinking about what they do, they enjoy coming to work and they are committed to success.

There are different levels of engagement. An engaged employee will be passionate about their work and eager to innovate. A not-engaged employee is “sleep working” through their day. They are putting in the time, but not the energy or passion.

Finally, there are actively-disengaged employees. This group is actively undermining the work of engaged employees.

According to Gallup, in 2012 only 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in its work, with 52 percent not engaged and 18 percent actively disengaged. That means that at any organization, it is likely that 70 percent of your workforce is not fully committed to your goals.

So how do you change this? Simple—by allowing and encouraging everyone to be creative at work.

If you asked a classroom full of kindergartners if they considered themselves to be creative, you would see dozens of raised hands. However, if you asked a corporate board room, or all the workers on factory floor, you would be lucky to see one or two hands go up.

Somewhere on the journey of our lives, we convinced ourselves that we are no longer creative, that our personal inspirations are not worth contributing. Awakening that creative spirit is the key to becoming engaged in our work. That is what we need to rediscover.

Look around your work environment. Is there something that can be changed to make it easier, faster or more effective?

By viewing your workplace not as a static grind, but as a fluid space that can be reshaped and molded, you become a sculptor of your own masterpiece.

Think about the tasks that you go through every day. Can they be improved? Eliminated? It can be something as simple as redesigning the forms you use so it only takes up one page instead of four, or something as elaborate as rearranging a factory floor so that everyone can always access the tools in the middle of the room.

By allowing everyone to shape how they conduct their work, you are harnessing the intellectual talents of everyone within your organization, as opposed to just those at the uppermost level. It creates a positive environment, where everyone is engaged and working toward a more productive tomorrow.

This type of thinking requires trust on the part of management. Too often we are told that all the solutions are held within one CEO’s head. We have built up the empire of the all-knowing entrepreneur. This is foolish.

If employees feel that they have control over their work processes, with the ability to improve their own work environment and be responsible for meeting their internal goals, then they will be more engaged in their work.

I’ve spoken to businesses around the world, and I am always surprised when I encounter managers who do not trust their employees. If you don’t trust them with your business, why do they work for you?

Too often, management can view employees as a cost, simply a biological machine, not realizing that every single employee has an incredible contribution to make to a company: their creative mind.

Here are three ways you can begin changing your workplace:

Build a Kaizen board 

Kaizen is a Lean manufacturing term for “continuous improvement.” A Kaizen board is a place where you can display all the ideas your employees generate. Ask each employee to submit something once a month. That’s not a hard ask. One idea every 30 days. Hang these ideas up on the Kaizen board so they can be applauded and implemented.

Use visual displays

Have your front desk, shop floor or production team put together a visual display that lets everyone know how successful they have been. It could be a color-coded board of numbers or a giant thermometer that slowly fills. The key is that anyone walking in must be able to instantly grasp its meaning.

Invest in on-the-job training.

Workplace learning should not be a once-a-year occasion. You should be constantly bringing in fresh information to help inspire new ideas. Create a book group and read the latest material in your industry, or stream learning videos in your break room. By constantly stirring the intellectual pot, ideas will bubble forth.

By tapping into the creative potential within every employee, you are harnessing the total intellectual strength of your organization, rather than just a sum of its total labor. The result is an inspired and fully engaged workforce.

Collin McLoughlin is the president of, a Lean and Kaizen platform focused on breaking down the formality of learning. 

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