In our Healthcare Kaizen books, Joe Swartz and I have tried to make the case that the Kaizen style of continuous improvement isn’t just a nice way to treat employees… it’s smart business and it’s good for patients. It’s a practical approach that we can make a part of our organizational culture with effort, patience, creativity, and discipline. We can all do this. We can try to engage everybody in ongoing continuous improvement.
The biggest challenge or complaint I get thrown back at me is a leader saying “we don’t have time for improvement.” To that, I say you have to make time for Kaizen. If it’s important, you’ll make time and you’ll find a way. If you want to give Kaizen lip service, you’ll make excuses. If you’re serious about it, you’ll solve the “no time” problem and other barriers (see a video of me giving a talk on this theme via LEI).
The other big concern is leaders asking:
“What if our employees give us bad ideas?”
They don’t mean “bad” the way Michael Jackson did in this album, of course. He meant “bad” was good, right?
The smart-alecky response would be, “Well, what do you think would happen?”
Much of the concern about bad ideas is grounded in the outdated suggestion box model.
What happens in that model?
- Employee has idea
- Employee puts written idea on box
- Idea sits in box for a month or two
- A committee or a group managers reviews the idea
- The group decides “yes” or “no”
There are many problems there, including the “yes or no” mindset.
In this mindset, managers are afraid they will waste a lot of time reviewing “bad ideas” and rejecting them.
But, Kaizen is Different
Kaizen isn’t a glorified suggestion box. It’s not a visual suggestion box on a bulletin board. It’s not an electronic suggestion box-type system.
It’s a different mindset.
Managers have to collaborate with their employees. They have to work together to find something they CAN implement instead of just saying no.
When a “bad idea” comes in, the manager doesn’t just reject it. They ask questions.
“What is the problem or the opportunity you have identified?” (Thanks for pointing out this problem or opportunity, by the way).
“What other potential solutions or countermeasures did you consider?”
“Why do you think that is the best idea to try?”
“Is there a way we could do a small, risk-free test to see if the idea would work?”
There are so many constructive and positive things a manager can do when there’s a “bad idea.” We don’t have to respond in a way that makes people feel bad or dumb. But, we shouldn’t be passive aggressive either.
If somebody suggests something that would be unsafe, we should help them understand why… and help them come up with another idea that might solve that problem.
If somebody has an idea that would violate a rule or regulation, the manager should explain that to the employee… and, again, help them find something different to implement.
What’s the worse that could happen if you get a “bad idea?”
The worst would be telling the employee “that’s a dumb idea.” Almost as bad would be to just reject or ignore the idea.
Our employees deserve better.
You don’t think you can afford the time to interact with employees that way? Can you afford not to? Find a way… you can do it.
Want to learn more about Kaizen? Check out these upcoming webinars and a workshop I’m doing in October.
About LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Customer Success for the technology company KaiNexus. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.