One of the things a company needs to do well to stay in business over the long term is constantly improve. If everyone in your company improved their productivity by just 5% a year, the compounding of that alone would give you a cost advantage vs. your competition. The question is, how do you get everyone on board and willing to improve their productivity?
When I was president of Roth Bros. Inc., I implemented the Better, Faster, Cheaper (BFC) approach. I held employee meetings two to three times a year where, among many other things, I would explain how important it was to the survival of the business to continuously improve. I emphasized that no idea was too small to matter. It’s about the combination of everyone’s ideas that add up that matter. To drive home the point, I then recognized employees who had implemented BFC ideas. I did this over and over again to drill it into the culture.
The BFC process started by each employee asking themselves these questions: How can I do my job better? How can I do my job faster? And, how can I do my job cheaper? At least once a year, everyone was required to go through this exercise with their supervisor.
What happens when you ask employees to think BFC?
I had three main takeaways that resulted from these exercises:
First, when everyone questioned all the activities they did throughout their day, it was amazing how many of those activities were no longer necessary or were non-value added and could be stopped. Roth had been in business over 80 years when we started the BFC approach. A lot of things had been added to processes over the years, like reports produced that no longer served a purpose, for example. If we didn’t go through this exercise, people likely would have gone about doing things the same way they always did.
Second, the creativity of people — once engaged — was impressive. The BFC exercise increased employee engagement because people were asked to use their brains and to think outside the box to add value as opposed to just carrying out orders.
And third, this exercise led most people to want to understand the flow of the entire process they were involved with which improved the impact of the ideas generated.
Some of the ideas the employees generated could be implemented on their own, some needed to be worked through with their supervisors and some required an investment. The ideas that required investment normally involved our IT group’s involvement to automate a process, leverage our investment in the electronic document management system or upgrade hardware. But they were worth it.
Getting supervisors on board
How supervisors embrace a BFC-type program that requires employee engagement will determine if it is successful. They will make or break whether employees unlock or lock the ideas they have for BFC. I recommend measuring the number of ideas generated per person, averaging it per supervisor and then posting it. Then measure the same for ideas implemented and try to estimate their impact (for example, money saved, time saved, customer experience improved, etc.). The measurement and posting of results encourages supervisors to embrace the process and helps to create an environment where employees are engaged.
I credit the BFC approach to Roth’s ability to grow its service products rapidly without adding an ever-increasing amount of overhead. It was a definite win-win, because we improved the work experience of our people as well as the margins for the company.
If you’re going to try the BFC approach at your business, I encourage you to do so with one caveat: In order to get it ingrained in your culture, you as the CEO must push the BFC approach, be a cheerleader for it and recognize employees who are engaged participates. It takes effort on your part, but in the end, you’ll be able to work BFC too as everyone pitches in.