Meaningful Work Environments

As practitioners of continuous improvement, many of us have spent a large part of our careers building cultures focused on lean and operational excellence. An outcome of this work is that we have grown personally as we balanced being both teacher and student.

In addition, our leadership principles and styles evolved thanks to our focus on respect and the central importance of people in the workplace.

The last several decades paved a path of progressive thinking about building cultures of continuous improvement.

Many of us began the journey by simply gaining awareness of lean and operational excellence principles. Then we learned new concepts and tools and experimented with new ideas while using the new tools at our disposal. We learned about stability, capability, standard work, visual management, quality at the source, flow, pull and working to takt in order to meet customers’ needs at the lowest possible cost to the business. We introduced a new language – the language of value and waste; purpose, people and process; systems thinking; and the importance of focusing on the extended value stream. We learned about focusing on the customer, and we achieved results as measured by improvements in safety, cost, time, quality, satisfaction, and delivery.

Yet, the real prize in all our work to date is the incredible lessons learned about the importance of people in the workplace. We have learned the importance of dignity, respect, empathy, relationships, and critical thinking relative to the role people play in all our operations, regardless of the level of technology or automation in our particular industry.

We learned that continuous improvement begins and ends with people, and the work that people perform. And from this launching pad, we learned that the power of people and work is a function of the meaningfulness of work. As leaders, it is critical that we focus on creating environments where work is meaningful.

Clearly, this is a subjective topic and could easily remain the stuff of heady concepts and not be very practical. As the question goes, “What will we do with this on Monday morning?” This means we need to bridge from the conceptual to the tangible and determine what we can realistically do with these insights. If we can identify our concrete opportunities, or perhaps even obligations, as leaders to make work more meaningful inside our organizations, then we will have accomplished our purpose.

Robert advises organizations in order to identify the importance of making work more meaningful and to clarify what it means to actually do this important work.