by Dominic Bria, Psy.D.
People who work in continuous improvement in any industry tend to love it. It becomes their passion. Many people even end up doing volunteer work in continuous improvement (CI) outside their regular jobs or after retirement.
Consider the Shingo examiners, the people who perform the assessments of organizations that challenge for the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. These are professionals who work in continuous improvement and, on a volunteer basis, help assess organizations based on their current level of excellence and on their propensity to continue improving. None of the examiners receive monetary compensation for their work. Their travel is paid, but that’s it.
It’s astonishing how many experienced continuous improvement practitioners reach out to the Shingo Institute to volunteer as examiners. We never have a shortage of eager participants. When asked why they volunteer, the examiners’ responses are all strikingly similar: They see the good that happens in organizations that have the continuous improvement mindset and they want to be involved. They’ve seen that continuous improvement changes lives for the better both in and out of the workplace.
Organizations that make continuous improvement part of their cultures, which is usually a years-long process, are far more likely to acknowledge and even celebrate the “human-ness” of their associates. Humans make mistakes. Humans have uniquely human needs. Humans have the capacity to understand processes and systems and to create ways to improve them. On average, associates employed at such organizations tend to be far more engaged and satisfied than their counterparts employed at more hierarchical organizations that don’t make continuous improvement a priority.
One good example is Land Apparel in Cortes, Honduras, which received a Shingo Bronze Medallion in 2017. When Land Apparel began its continuous improvement evolution it became obvious that the site would need to educate its associates on what CI really meant and how to best practice continuous improvement principles. But in order to do that, many of their associates needed a basic education first. In response, Land Apparel hired teachers to teach classes that would enable associates to complete their high school educations. They even went so far as to make their in-house high school nationally accredited. Later, when it became clear that lack of child care stood in the way of some associates’ development, Land opened and staffed a child care facility within the plant.
Another more recent example is Merit Medical. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, with several manufacturing facilities worldwide, Merit’s Tijuana, Mexico facility received a Shingo Prize in the spring of 2019. Merit is a rare example of an organization that made continuous improvement part of its culture early on, and CI is now very apparent in the high maturity level of the organization. Maturity in that associates provide most of the ideas for its continuous improvement as a matter of course. Merit has concentrated on providing associates with the things they need for quality of life: on-site dental, medical, and child care and, in Tijuana at least, a bus system that transports associates safely to and from work to their homes all over the city. Merit even added restaurants to its facilities—restaurants, not a cafeteria. The food is prepared by a head chef and a full kitchen staff. The employees pay a very small amount for each meal and the food is top-notch. Interestingly, Merit found that after it added the restaurants to its facilities, the turnover rate dropped dramatically.
The empowerment and subsequent engagement that comes from such organizational cultures improves the organizations and ultimately improves the lives of their associates and their families. That improvement has far-reaching effects. If you are engaged or at least satisfied at work, if you feel you are progressing and have a pathway forward, that positivity bleeds into other facets of your life. Lives are improved by the continuous improvement mindset in any industry.