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Active voice equals active involvement

  • Neal Glatt, CSP, ASM
- Posted: May 29, 2018
With the snow season wrapping up, solid snow management companies are seeking feedback from their customers and striving to improve for next winter. The best companies, however, recognize that they have a much deeper source of wisdom to tap: their employees. Although senior employees are typically involved in a feedback review, the biggest postseason mistake that most companies make is to not involve all front-line and seasonal employees in a true review process. When these employees are engaged, not only does business improvement dramatically recover, but employee engagement does as well.

Secrets from the front line
Employees on the front line know exactly what happens at the point of service. They see every success and failure firsthand. They hear every compliment and complaint from customers and team members. They can identify every inefficiency and wasted cost because they experience the frustration themselves. Don’t neglect this knowledge source.

The larger the company, the more management can learn from the workforce entrusted to care for the customer. This idea isn’t new; large manufacturers have implemented feedback programs from all levels of employees for over 50 years. Toyota has reported over 50 million suggestions since implementing this approach in 1960. Dubbed “high involvement innovation,” this approach to continuous improvement speeds up the ability for companies to evolve and innovate exponentially. 

Innovate fast
Innovation consists of two types of activities: many small incremental steps and occasional dramatic leaps, according to John Bessant, a professor of innovation management at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Those who traditionally are involved in business improvement (senior managers, department head, R&D departments, etc.) are usually the ones responsible for the “dramatic leaps.” The missed opportunity for most companies is that they never harvest the benefit of the entire workforce contributing to the “many small incremental steps” because they assume the workforce can’t meaningfully contribute. Research shows this assumption to be entirely false.

At a recent tour of Caterpillar’s manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, I was surprised to hear many stories of innovation from front line employees. At seemingly every station, there was a method of efficiency or safety that was attributed not to a manufacturing expert, but rather to veteran employees who experienced a suboptimal situation and suggested an improvement. As a result, Caterpillar enjoys significant benefits and cost reduction due to increased productivity and reduced downtime.

Part of the team
Even if opening the postseason feedback process to all employees never results in substantial innovation, there is an arguably more important benefit that will be realized. Employees who feel that they have a voice in the organization are more likely to be engaged. According to Gallup, engaged business units deliver 21% greater profitability. Why? Engaged employees are more likely to show up (41% reduction in absenteeism) and work harder (17% increase in productivity). Further, employees are less likely to quit. In high-turnover industries like snow and ice management, companies have seen 24% less turnover when employees are engaged.

These statistics confirm what everyone already knows: it feels good to be heard and treated as part of the team. Taking the time and effort to appreciate an employee and learn their perspective will always pay dividends. The postseason is the perfect time to make this objective a reality.

Own the process
This endeavor cannot be haphazard. The companies that are successful in garnering feedback from employees while strengthening the team create a system that is efficient and sincere. Employees must feel appreciation in the process and managers should guard against this becoming another check box for the end of the year. Identifying someone who can champion this cause, a senior person who is passionate about people and new ideas, may be a great step.

Most importantly, this initiative needs to be genuine, and employees should see action items arising from the process. Staying transparent about what changes may occur is critical to preventing disengagement from the process. Showing honesty and humility is a key to success.

The best companies know that while this process seems expensive and time-consuming, the results in culture and process improvement are invaluable. Improvement never happens unintentionally, so take the initiative today to make the 2018-2019 snow season the best one yet. 

Neal Glatt, CSP, ASM is a John Maxwell team certified coach, speaker and trainer specializing in leadership development and improving team dynamics. Contact him at
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