Inspiring Employees with Innovative Associate Driven Programs

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Are your employees happy in their jobs? Are they enthusiastic, creative and hard-working? Have you compensated them adequately both from a financial and an emotional standpoint? These may seem like trivial questions, but we all know how disabling a disenchanted employee can be for organizational morale. It starts with one person and quickly spreads to a dozen, adversely affecting your company’s culture and ultimately, profitability. According to a recent Gallup poll, dissatisfaction and low morale affects half of our workforce (up to 70%).

One important way to counter this lack of engagement is through employee enhancement and enrichment programs. These programs are replete with processes and approaches to get employees excited not only about their jobs, but about their future. With these types of investments, employers demonstrate that they care about their employees’ well-being and work, and in turn, employees have a greater sense of loyalty and connection with the organization. With these types of programs, employees are more inclined to respond positively about their job to others that have a positive effect on the organization and on bringing in new talent via word-of-mouth.

This investment is invaluable to a company since employees who are satisfied and enthusiastic about their job are less likely to leave. Happy employees are great ambassadors and in sparsely populated parts of the country (like Maine), personal recommendations of companies can be worth their weight in gold in attracting talent to an organization.

Happy employees do translate to providing better customer service and experience. There are many examples of companies that have a proven record of this mantra. One example that I found to be of particular interest was Geiger Marketing with their associate-driven program that was presented recently at a Lean/Continuous Improvement Summit last month in Portland, Maine.

Rob Kilgore has been working at Geiger for over eight years and has risen from the ranks from a accounts receivable representative to the continuous improvement coordinator at Geiger reporting directly to the president. Geiger has a rich history of spanning five generations. It is the largest family-owned, most respected company in the promotional products industry with over 500 employees. Rob’s presentation at this Lean/Continuous Improvement Summit was on idea generation and how this is integral for a company’s competitive advantage. With the support of top management, he designed and implemented Geiger’s employee-suggestion box program. It is an associate-driven program wherein associates drive their continuous improvement program by taking ownership of their suggestions that better their workplace with ideas that are simple, easy/quick to implement and don’t require upper-level management intervention. The concept is based on a win-win for the employees, company’s management and ultimately, their customers. In the three years that this program has been operational, multiple benefits have been achieved not only in business efficiency, but also in their employees’ morale.

What made his presentation truly compelling were his passion for his discipline and his conviction that their associate-driven program not only had merit, but it was a program that was easy to replicate and didn’t require a major investment. It does require a commitment from leadership perspective because nothing evolves without intervention and deliberate execution. What was clear to me was the Rob was amply qualified for developing their Continuous Improvement (CI) program, having been the CI coordinator/manager at Geiger Marketing for over six years. Their CEO, Gene Geiger, has been an avid supporter of the program. Geiger’s culture operatives on these imperatives: “Every associate is responsible for improving the work they do every day. We will deliver what or customers want when they want it – and eliminate anything that diminishes that effort.” He has also been a presenter for the Lean Systems Summit for the past four years. Other credentials include a SME lean Bronze Certified Sensei and the internal Geiger certification of CI Leader, a program that he was instrumental in developing and implementing.

The basics of the program were founded on the associates within a company have a method for improving their workplace through an electronic suggestion box. They adopted a model that was derived from Alan Robinson’s 8 Key Points for successful idea generation + implementation.

Idea Generation – Coaching for Value-Added Ideas

• Ideas are encouraged and welcomed.

• Submitting ideas is simple.

• Evaluation of ideas is quick and effective.

• Feedback is timely, constructive and informative.

• Implementation is rapid and smooth.

• Ideas are reviewed for additional potential.

• People are recognized, and success is celebrated.

• Idea system performance is measured, reviewed, and improved.

At the heart of their program is the importance in valuing people and their associates. Their associates on the front lines are responsible for taking care of their customers’ needs and ultimate satisfaction. Rob said, “Our associates are by far our most value asset. We will hire talented people, train and empower them, and recognize their accomplishments. We want a safe, healthy workplace, where communications is strong; teamwork is the norm; and innovation energizes.”

Throughout his presentation, there were many examples that illustrated how the company developed their program for the benefit of its people, company and their customers. . Associates are teamed up in appropriate-sized groups that determine whether or not ideas are escalated for implementation. Participation is a requirement and everyone is held accountable for their ideas.

These ideas are posted on an idea board as well as an online suggestion board to accommodate remote employees and all the team members have the opportunity to comment on the idea for fit, viability, applicability. In the three years since the programs’ inception, there has been a significant drop in parked ideas- ideas that were never implemented. Associates are getting better at identifying ideas that are viable.

Monthly meetings have evolved into a friendly jousting between departments to spur the juices of competition for who has the best ideas and greatest number. Individuals receive their due recognition, reinforcing individual contribution, teamwork and purpose of the program to deliver efficiencies.

Primary to any credible system is its measurability. The area where they have found they have had the greatest success for the program include: internal processes, systems, external customer value, morale and wellness. Geiger has no reservations about its commitment to continuous improvement and their associate run idea-generation program. They feel that there is no end for how you can improve your company’s processes and policies that result in either a better outcome for either your associates and/or customers.
This worked for Geiger, but for those reading this, what has worked for you? What magic have you invoked to incite a sense of competition, enthusiasm and zeal in your work force?
Next time, we will look into another organization that has succeeded world-class status from grass root business initiatives.

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