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4 Ways to Build Operational Excellence Through Employee Feedback

Santiago Jaramillo
Santiago Jaramillo

(August 3, 2017) Operational excellence is a model that emphasizes continual improvement and a shared understanding of how a process creates value for a customer. Under the constructs of operational excellence, employees are encouraged to seek out areas of inefficiency in production processes and fix them before they break.

It’s imperative that we as business leaders recognize that achieving operational excellence isn’t just about cutting costs. Some businesses—like Southwest Airlines, which only flies one plane model to decrease maintenance and training expenses—have made a case for minimizing their costs and going “lean” to increase profit margins. Operational excellence can also be achieved when business leaders realize the ROI of investing into continual improvement of their people processes, which in turn will mitigate burnout, increase morale, and ultimately improve productivity.

No matter how one’s business is structured, inviting feedback from employees will create deeper investment in achieving a continual improvement model and drive better business outcomes. Giving employees an easy and tangible way to provide feedback leads to better, more informed decisions for the organization and employees that truly feel heard.

If there isn’t a formal listening program at your business, here are four best practices to help with launching one:

Incorporate feedback into daily interactions.

The first step to building an effective listening program is creating an open environment for feedback. Ask for it, and rely on managers to encourage it. Begin to introduce multiple touch points for feedback, from manager one-on-ones to town hall meetings to employee surveys. When employees and managers see that they have multiple options to voice feedback at work, it’s more likely to become a routine part of your company culture and daily interactions. The key is that all company leaders are committed to regular feedback gathering.

One thing I’ve personally had success with is the “Start, Stop, Keep” model of feedback where I routinely ask employees or teams what things we should start doing, stop doing, and keep doing. After a few attempts and finding success in the quality of the feedback received, I learned two lessons that I continue to strive toward whenever I ask for feedback: 1) the more specific the topic, the higher the quality. So when asking about what to stop, start, or keep, I’ll focus on questions around our all team meetings, customer experience, or other specific subjects. 2) Once I heard feedback and implemented the top idea, and I communicated that the change/improvement occurring was sourced through the “Start, Stop, Keep” exercise, the quantity and quality of feedback increased.

Assure confidentiality with all employee responses.

When you decide to institute surveys into your feedback strategy (or if your business is already surveying employees), it’s important to create an environment that encourages safety in giving feedback. Employees need to trust that they can share their opinions without fear of negative repercussion later. Set a minimum threshold of how many surveys you will administer to guarantee that feedback won’t be singled out and to assure confidentiality within your responses. By creating this standard and communicating it to all employees during your listening program, your workforce will naturally respond with more candid feedback around operational and cultural improvements.

15five customer Steel Encounters, for example, has created a culture that encourages feedback and empowers employees to vocalize areas of operational improvement. After recently conducting a company culture survey, Steel Encounters discovered that their scores were particularly low on manager relations and utilization (or how well an employee feels their skills are being used in their role). Their employees saw ways to improve processes—but without a culture of confidential feedback, they didn’t feel they could elevate their ideas or issues to their managers. Since then, the company has instituted a listening program that incorporates regular feedback into the day-to-day culture. Twice a month, Steel Encounters invites 25 of their senior managers to discuss progress on tactics gleaned from their quarterly survey results, as well as identify new tactics to try. In a workforce where an internal survey or poll averaged 40% participation rate, now more than 76% of Steel Encounters’ employees are actively participating in the company’s requests for feedback because they now know that their voice is being heard.

Customize the approach to gathering feedback.

A “one size fits all” engagement approach is rarely effective because not only are employees diverse, but their methods of communication are too. Across the healthcare industry, for example, nurses might be distributed across homes or units and not check email regularly. Choose a communication strategy that works for your specific staff, and implement technology that enables better feedback gathering. Make sure that technology is accessible by employees who may not have corporate email addresses by looking for features like text authentication or mobile-friendly web views. If some meaningful cohort of your employees are out and about and corporate email isn’t best channel, consider mobile-first channels like push notifications from a mobile app or text/SMS.

Remember to actually act on your feedback.

Neuroscientist Paul Zak reports that a 10% increase in an employee’s trust in his or her company’s leaders has the same impact on engagement as a 36% salary increase. Once you’ve gathered enough information on a particular issue, remember to communicate company-wide changes you are making as a result of that feedback. By addressing the core of your team’s issues before they impact engagement, you’ll help employees feel heard while increasing trust and retention.

TH Marine, a manufacturer of high-quality boating accessories and a 15five customer, is a shining example of how acting on and promoting employee feedback can actually increase ROI. When the company’s results revealed that the production team felt underutilized on a specific production process, TH Marine purchased more advanced equipment for their employees, speeding up the time to complete a certain task by 30%. By addressing a high-impact pain point uncovered by employee feedback, TH Marine has been able to add $3.8 million in new product production capacity, which was achieved through feedback surfaced directly from their workers.

Operational excellence isn’t achieved by just one leader within your organization (or even an entire leadership team). It takes the employees with their ears to the ground to personally surface areas of continual improvement. By integrating simple ways to share feedback into the routine culture of your business, a culture of operational excellence will organically emerge and create substantial business value beyond basic process improvements.

Want to learn more about how your business can achieve better efficiency with focused employee engagement strategy? Get a demo of 15five.

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