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Jun Nakamuro

Lean

Workplace Engagement Through Self-Esteem

Respect is engagement

Published: Monday, February 5, 2018 - 12:02

The sad truth is that the word “engagement” is not very engaging. It’s one of those fluffy, ambiguous terms that have become all too familiar around the business world, like “empowerment” and “respect.” What does engagement really mean, and how do you, as a leader, engage your workforce? The concept of engagement seems so simple when you hear it, but why is it so hard to achieve?

Engagement, like other buzzwords, is a matter of human interaction. Human interaction is complicated, so people often inadvertently make anything related to it complicated. People make engagement complicated by turning it into surveys and pointless performance reviews, but surveys are the opposite of engagement. They force people into a predetermined frame of thought. Surveys don’t listen or inspire action. Engagement doesn’t have to be complicated if we don’t make it complicated. The following is how I have come to define engagement, based on my coaching experience and exploration of the scientific process behind it.

Engagement defined

What do engaged workers look like? They might look different in different industries, but one thing is consistent: They are actively focused on achieving a goal. It’s a nice image, but how do we get there? There is one key ingredient you cannot do without: self-esteem.

Engagement aims to develop self-esteem through work

Determination and hard work are valuable assets in any job, but they don’t always translate to engagement. Someone who is determined to succeed might be inclined to cut corners if he doesn’t trust his own ability. Hard workers with low self-esteem might just go through the motions and miss opportunities to innovate or better themselves. On the other hand, people with high self-esteem show a high level of engagement in their roles and responsibilities, fortifying their determination and making hard work a personal challenge rather than a struggle.

Engagement through self-esteem: ‘accept yourself’

Western societies tend to view self-esteem through the lens of individualism, but this can quickly lead people down the wrong path. Self-esteem is not the same as arrogance or narcissism. In Japan, we think of self-esteem less in terms of confidence and more in terms of acceptance. To accept yourself, you must love yourself, but you can’t tell yourself to love yourself. That must come from your experiences with how other people respond to you. When you see how other people value and depend on you, you will be encouraged to love yourself because of how your work affects them. The more colleagues thank you for your efforts, the more you can accept yourself. Whether at work or at home, feeling helpful and needed is a determining factor for self-esteem. It’s not just about you; it’s about the people who need your work to better their lives.

Figure 1: Achieving engagement means accepting yourself. You truly accept yourself only when others acknowledge you as an important person in their lives. Self-esteem is written as "自己肯定感", which means “to accept yourself.”

Steps to engage people by developing their self-esteem

Now that we have established that self-esteem determines engagement, how can you, as a leader, boost others’ self-esteem? 

Step 1: Share and visualize goals to create a sense of urgency
A leader’s job is to clearly communicate the organizational vision in a way that people can see as intuitively as they can interpret scenery. If people are going to feel useful, then they should have a clear vision of their company’s goals. Don’t just tell people what they need to achieve; show them the gaps between the current state and the intended state of your vision. Only when they see this gap and share the organizational vision as their personal goal will they be taken out of their comfort zones and fueled to make practical changes. This makes the goal a concrete problem to solve rather than an empty ideal.

Figure 2: Visibility boards in Japanese factories communicate a sense of urgency to workers on an hourly basis using the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle.

Figure 3: Japanese workers performing morale exercises to get out of their comfort zone and break the status quo.

Step 2: Encourage self-motivated improvement
Because managers often lament a lack of motivation in the workforce, it is easy to assume that the default nature of humanity is idleness, but this simple notion doesn’t reveal the full picture. People perform better and work harder when they have a passion for what they are doing. So how do you develop this passion? The key is to respect these natural traits that nearly everyone shares:
• People are creative
• People want to make things easier
• People want to succeed
• People want to change for the better
• People don’t like to be told what to do
• People tend to deny other people’s input

As a leader, your job is to create an environment where improvement is structured around these traits in a way that benefits the whole organization. The first thing you have to do is provide information so people can make their own decisions. Don’t just tell people what to do; give them the tools to decide what to do on their own. You want people to be passionate about their work, and you can’t have passion without a sense of ownership, accountability, and achievement. To accomplish this you need real visibility with responsive and up-to-date information.

Figure 4: Critical information is shared across the shop floor so that workers can make their own decisions to solve issues. (Shown are skill matrix, workload visibility, and kaizen progress visibility boards.)

Step 3: Ensure achievable goals through clear strategy deployment
Finally, you need to celebrate success when goals are achieved by your team. Kaizen is an ongoing process, but you still need confidence boosters along the way. The best way to do this is to set small goals that are achievable on a daily basis. This is where strategy deployment (hoshin kanri) becomes vital. Long-term goals are important to leaders, but front-line workers need smaller goals by which they can gauge their progress, distribute responsibility, and build self-esteem. When people take ownership of their goals and implement their own ideas, they will get hooked on the satisfaction of achievement, and each success will motivate the next improvement.

Developing self-esteem through work is not just about the bottom-line results. It has a huge impact on people’s quality of life. We all have 24 hours in a day, and we sleep 8 hours a day on average. We are left with 16 waking hours. If you work a typical 8-hour day, then you are spending half your life at work (for some people it’s even more). You might as well make work something that people can enjoy. People are looking for a work environment where they can work in a team and help others in ways that are truly appreciated. If you want to engage people, then you need to leverage the concept of self-esteem. A leader’s job is to create this environment and provide people with lean methodologies as a guideline to make their own decisions and improvements.

Figure 5: Workers have opportunities to present their solutions to be recognized by other team members.

Respect is engagement

Knowing the importance of self-esteem as a source of engagement, and how to cultivate it, you should be able to see the importance of respect for people.

Challenge people to unleash their untapped potential in the following ways:
• Help them see a sense of urgency
• Let people decide on their own to achieve their goals
• Develop people’s sense of ownership, responsibility, and accomplishment with recognition
• Make sure that goals are achievable and have a direct, positive impact on people’s work performance and personal aspirations

Respect for people means honoring these steps. The interests of employees are not at odds with the interest of the company. An organizational culture that follows these principles will promote kaizen without the constant need for workshops, lectures, or meetings. When you respect the people who work with you and help them develop their self-esteem, kaizen is a natural result.

 “Don’t look at the flower; look at the root.”
—Sensei Hitoshi Yamada

Figure 6: Factory workers so engaged that they want to participate in improvement workshops in the office environment

First published on LinkedIn.

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About The Author

Jun Nakamuro’s picture

Jun Nakamuro

Jun Nakamuro, executive director at Enna Products Corp., has undergone extensive training in Japan and received certification following the Toyota Production System (TPS) guidelines officially approved by Taiichi Ohno. Ohno’s most successful protégé, Hitoshi Yamada, has recognized Nakamuro’s achievement and endorsed him as a successor of Ohno’s philosophy. Nakamuro specializes in realizing transformation of process, mindset, and technology in a simultaneous manner. Nakamuo’s mission is to bridge cultural barriers to spread the best concepts of lean manufacturing, kaizen culture, and strategy deployment to organizations around the world.