World-Class, Lean Performance in the SMEs - Small and Medium Enterprises - by Carlo Scodanibbio, Industrial & Business Consultant - Lean Management Consultant

Carlo Scodanibbio
Industrial & Business Consultant
Lean Management Consultant

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Total Employee Involvement

In theory (but only theory) all enterprises' top management would very much like to have their personnel "involved" in the work they do, and "committed" to generate a better enterprise's performance.
But only "in theory". There are - still today - many enterprises (paleo-enterprises) in which people work is merely seen as an "anonymous" resource (like materials or machines) to be merely "purchased" (with wages or a salary.....).
Enterprises of this kind still exist and prosper, until they are allowed to do so (by their monster clients).

Many other enterprises, fortunately, have understood the vital importance of having their people "involved" and "committed" and, over the years, have set up or tried to set up a Human Resources Management strategy targeting at this very objective.
For over 40 years many disciplines and associated techniques have been developed for this purpose. All of them addressed to improving somehow people commitment and performance.
From Leadership techniques to Motivational disciplines - from Management by Objectives to Job Enrichment - from Situational Leadership to Suggestion schemes - from sophisticated Industrial Psychology techniques to One-Minute Management - from Improvement Teams to High Job Involvement - to mention just a few.
All of them have somehow contributed to getting closer to the target and all of them have somehow failed.

The truth, possibly, is in the fact that all traditional People Management disciplines and techniques have focused on the "persons" - the "individual" or the "team" - but have somehow forgotten or neglected the operational environment in which the persons are "inserted".
To bring an extreme example, "...there is no leadership or motivational technique that can stimulate an individual's motivation and commitment when his/her job description wants that individual to remove an injection-moulded component from a machine and place it in a carton, all day long, from 7 to 4, 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year....."

There are a few factors affecting the degree of involvement of an employee - primarily:

  • KNOWLEDGE, that enables employees to understand the enterprise and its "core" processes and contribute to their performance
  • POWER, to make decisions that influence organisational and processing strategies, policies and practices
  • INFORMATION (FEEDBACK) about enterprise's and processes' performance
  • REWARD, based on enterprise's performance and individuals' contributions
....the more those (and other) key factors are shifted downward in the hierarchy ladder, the more involvement may be generated....

The "revolution" started in the 80' in the East. That's when Total Employee Involvement started appearing in the Japanese manufacturing industry.
The focus shifted gradually from function, task and attention to task, to process, processing activity and involvement in the process.

The results of the new approach were astonishing. Japanese Quality Circles, for instance, became well known world-wide.

Today's Total Employee Involvement (TEI) is a westernised development of the original eastern discipline.
TEI key points are:

  • TEI is everyone deeply involved, using own brain power, in problem-solving, learning, continuous improvement activities, and systematic search for opportunities.
  • As people's best motivations come from their own ideas, TEI stimulates people to release, in a channelled mode, their own creative energy for the benefit of the customers, the enterprise's and their own.
  • TEI is a system for organisational and people's change. It is a system that improves people's working conditions by their own actions.
  • TEI is a system for direct participation of people to enterprise's success, by letting them take responsibilities. TEI wants people to be responsible for their own motivation and their own improvement, simply by letting them know the score....
  • TEI represents a continuous challenge to people, by letting them set the path to their fulfilment at work, with satisfaction and enjoyment......
In a TEI environment, people know about the enterprise, its strategies, its objectives, its cultural values and policies. People know the enterprise's core and support processes and about enterprise's and individual processes' performance. People care for the enterprise because, having been given the necessary skills, they know they are able to influence its performance and are given the space to do so (empowerment). People are responsible and accountable because this gives them a guarantee of job satisfaction. People consider work a gymnasium in which they can practise daily, set challenges, test themselves, and get enjoyment and fulfilment in return.

There are a few explicit and hidden key-words in the above sentence. They are: process - performance - ownership - empowerment - knowledge - responsibility - accountability - challenge - target - creativity - and others.

Which leads to the simple conclusion:
Involvement and commitment are not originated through external "leadership" or via injections of external motivation (which does not exist).
Involvement and commitment are generated by people themselves, through their own motivation and initiative, on condition they are given the space to be involved and committed.

The very secret is, once again, the process (more »). People must be given a process and a process description, and ownership for the process. Finito.

"Modern" people go well along with that. But not everybody can understand and accept this state of affairs. For inherited-paleo-industrial-culture reasons, many people - still today - think in terms of "my job is my job, from 8 to 5" or "working is a evil necessity - why aggravating it with extra problems?".     Well, these people are not suited in a world-class environment.
In fact, it is very simple for world-class enterprises to "select" and rapidly test new employees. Instead of going through sophisticated industrial psychology tests and assessment techniques, all they have to do is to give new-comers simple, experimental processes to take care of during a short, probationary period.
The new-comer's work culture, approach and attitude comes out crisp and clear, and very rapidly....


And for existing employees? For enterprises willing to "jump" to higher levels of performance? What is the formula?

Not all enterprises can embark easily and painlessly in a TEI project - there are some conditions to be fulfilled....

In fact,

"...the worst thing that could possibly happen to an enterprise and its employees is the adoption of an inadequate HR Management strategy......"

Yes, there is no point in embarking into a TEI project and/or targeting at a world-class status if the necessary conditions are not there.
It might be a horrible mistake. It might jeopardise the well-being status of a "traditional" enterprise. It might destroy it.....

Enterprises need to consider carefully their Organisational Strategies and verify if the necessary conditions for undergoing a TEI project (in particular) and to jump to upper levels of performance (in general) exist.       (more »)

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