AME Author, 2017 AME Boston Conference Chair, Lean Leadership Resource Center, Inc.
The owner of the cookie factory told me flat out:
“I’m hiring you because you know how to make employees happy, and happy employees increase my profits.”
He is one smart cookie. The data shows quite conclusively: there is a direct relationship between employee engagement and profitability.
A recent study of 94 businesses on employee engagement revealed that the top 25 percent of engaged companies has twice the shareholder value and 7 times the level of profitability. Conversely, the bottom 25 percent of engaged companies saw lower levels of shareholder value and a decrease of 4 percent in profits. 
But how can you use Lean and Continuous Improvement to increase engagement, happiness, and profits?
Read on to discover: Seven ways Lean creates engagement while increasing shareholder value:
1. Bring a sense of meaning to team members’ work
Many employees feel that their individual job doesn’t really have an impact on the end customer. To change this mindset, make a direct connection between the employee and the customer they serve. Bring a customer into your next Town hall meeting.
Provide training on specific customer needs or invite customers into the workplace to share their mission. Talk about how the product created by the employee impacts that mission.
2. Instill a sense of accomplishment
Continuous Improvement is inherently motivational. That’s because people feel a sense of accomplishment when something gets better. When your team understands what problems occur and come up with their own solutions, they feel a deep sense of satisfaction that drives them to achieve even more.
Keep motivation high: set small, achievable goals as you reach targets. Remember to celebrate accomplishments on a regular basis.
3. Create many opportunities to participate
Ask for feedback and input. That is an important principle of Lean. When employees feel that their voices and opinions matter, they will continue to participate in the process even though it’s impossible to implement every idea.
Actively seek employees’ opinions on a wide variety of topics, but especially those changes that directly affect them. Publicly recognize contributions by employees when they are implemented.
4. Reduce frustrating waste
Processes that lead to a lot of mistakes or inconsistent results demotivate and frustrate employees. No one likes seeing their efforts wasted on repetition or rework when things could have been done right the first time. Nothing lifts people’s spirits more than doing better work.
Process management techniques, that are completed with employee teams, help identify waste and define the best way to complete work. Utilize these techniques with your team and have them visit other organizations that have reduced waste. Challenge your team to identify waste in their own workplaces.
5. Solve problems as a team
Employees learn more about their co-workers and the challenges they face when they solve problems together. They feel more understood and empowered to act for the good of the team. Recognize team efforts and highlight how teamwork made the environment better for them and their coworkers.
6. Use visual tools to advertise progress and success
When you are improving processes, share process and success visually. Reaching a goal is like winning a game, so it is important to know where you stand and how far you have left to go.
Post results in high-traffic areas where everyone can see them. Include employees when you develop the measurements of success. Make sure each person understands why the measurement is important, both to the individual and to the company as a whole. Use this as another opportunity to celebrate success.
7. Cultivate, develop and nurture inspirational leadership
Almost nothing motivates employees as much as giving them the opportunity to lead. When employees feel they have skin in the game, they contribute more of themselves to meet and exceed targets.
Move away from the mindset that just a few are in charge. Instead, give many people the chance to lead. To do this, train supervisors on how to engage with employees positively. Teach managers how to empower others—and reward them for doing so.
These principles and ideas only begin to show how you can increase employee motivation and enthusiasm. The possibilities are endless.
Lean principles have been used for years in manufacturing to reduce waste, increase output and improve quality.
Isn’t it time to apply those same principles to increasing the employee engagement? Visit ImprovementROI.com to get the free download: “10 Guidelines for Higher ROI from Continuous Improvement Initiatives”
To learn more about employee engagement, be sure to register for our 2017 International Conference in Boston, where the theme is "Get Engaged." For more information, visit the AME Boston International Conference website.
 William H. Macey, Benjamin Schneider, Karen M. Barbera, Scott A. Young, Employee Engagement: Tools for Analysis, Practice, and Competitive Advantage(Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)