Unless every employee is involved in the quality effort, there will always be instances of error.
The disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania was probably the United States' most costly industrial accident. Until that moment, the electric power industry had
full authority to spend and overspend for nuclear energy. The public was kept in the dark;
we were told only that the long-term benefits of nuclear energy warranted cost overruns.
Then the accident happened. Nuclear power plant construction stopped, sites in progress closed down and billions of dollars were written off. The Three Mile Island incident completely changed the
nuclear power industry.
Lou Davis--professor emeritus at UCLA, a manufacturing expert and the co-creator of socio-technical systems--told me that a Three Mile Island
power-plant worker had noticed a dial indicating the potential disaster but was afraid to tell his boss. He simply didn't believe that his supervisor would listen to him. Doesn't this sound like
what is true at most companies? There's just no system in place involving all employees in improvement activities on a daily basis. Workers just do their jobs, as they perceive their jobs should
be done, and they rarely offer improvement ideas.
You can install the most efficient quality system ever designed, but unless every employee is involved, there's always a
potential disaster lurking in the background. Everyone must be observant; everyone must be involved and listened to. A quality manager can design the system and set the tone, but employees must
be the daily watchdogs, always alert for potential quality and safety problems.
For 20 years I went out of my way to meet every quality and productivity "guru" in the world. I
worked with Juran, Deming, Shingo, Ohno, Crosby, Ishikawa, Akao, Nakajima, Mizuno, Fukuda and others. I interviewed them for my newsletters, invited them to speak at my conferences and published
many of their books. Concepts such as just in time, quality function deployment, total quality management, total productive maintenance and hoshin kanri came from these gurus. The new principles
excited me and changed the very foundations of U.S. industry. But there was still a missing ingredient, one that would ensure that every employee was involved in the quality and improvement
At first I thought quality circles offered that missing ingredient. Sure, many companies have developed wonderful team activities. But as great as teams are, they
don't involve every single employee. So what does?
In Japan they have something called "quick and easy kaizen." It's a system that encourages every employee to come up with
many small improvement ideas on a continual basis. At Toyota and Canon, 60 to 70 ideas per year, per employee, are written down, shared and implemented. This system really gets all employees
involved in improvement activities. We know about the importance of Toyota's
JIT system, and when asked what sets Toyota apart, the company responds:
production system is at the heart of everything we do. Based on the concept of continuous improvement, or kaizen, every Toyota team member is empowered with the ability to improve the work
environment. This includes everything from quality and safety to productivity and the environment. Improvements and suggestions by team members are the cornerstones of Toyota's success."
In the United States, to my knowledge, only Toyota and Dana Corp. have the quick and easy kaizen system up and running well. But does it really work? Can employees really be
trusted to implement improvement ideas?
Senior executives of Dana Corp. visited Japan 10 years ago. The chairman came back and asked every one of his employees to submit--in
writing--two ideas per month, with a company goal of implementing 80 percent of them. That policy brought the resistance barrier down and totally changed how ideas were handled
the company. Instead of looking at employees' ideas as threats against their authority, supervisors sought to ignite a creative fire within each worker, and they did: Last year, more than 2
million ideas were submitted at Dana, and 80 percent of them were implemented. What's more, the person who came up with each idea was usually the person who implemented it.
Joe Magliochetti, chairman and CEO of Dana, explains in the foreword to my book The Idea Generator (PCS Press, 2001), "We find that the people who are the most prolific in their ideas and in
their involvement are the most satisfied as well."
Jack Simms, purchasing and idea manager at Dana's Statesville, North Carolina, plant recently told me that despite 650
employees in the plant, not a single loss-time accident has occurred this past year. This achievement came about through the organization's idea system, which mandates that every worker focuses
daily on reducing costs and improving both quality and safety. Until then, Simms had been receiving only 60 written ideas from plant associates per year. And with quick and easy kaizen, the
workers who came up with the ideas also either implemented them or became part of a team that did.
Quick and easy kaizen is a powerful, proven process. I believe that if people
were truly involved as empowered members of their organizations, taught quality tools and techniques, respected for their intelligence and listened to on a daily basis, most defects and industry
accidents would disappear entirely.
About the author
Norman Bodek is former
president of Productivity Inc./Productivity Press and co-author of The Idea Generator, published by his new company, PCS Press, and available at Amazon.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .