A few days ago, I participated in a workshop for machine operators that was led by the head of production of a global company and his managers – shift leaders, heads of maintenance. Participants were people working in the factory halls, in shifts, producing a tangible product. The purpose of the workshop with the employees was to discuss the core purpose, strategic directions, behaviors and key principles of working together. The content was exactly the same that had been shared and discussed with the other employees and the management levels.
For most participants, it was the first time to be part of an interactive cross- departmental workshop, the first time to be presented with strategic topics and the first time those topics were discussed with them. And the first time they presented their ideas in front of the top management, some of whom also participated.
Discussions in small groups, personal reflections in pairs – everything. And they came up with proposals and concrete ideas about their contribution to implementing the strategy. In the break, one of the workshop leaders told me: we had all of these workshops on white color level and we really felt we needed to roll this out to all colleagues, ALL of them. When we all understand the WHY and WHAT of our appraoch and strategy, we will save a lot of discussion, and people will understand what needs to be done and WHY.
And this is the reason the shift-leaders took the initiative to roll-out all relevant topics to their colleagues themselves afterwards; they volunteered to prepare and conduct the workshop themselves. Many of them presented in front of people for the first time; they were so proud of themselves, and their colleagues applauded and thanked them. (One of the most moving moments was when a shift leader shared her thoughts and reflections on her leaving the comfort zone, encouraging her colleagues to try out new things and get new results – this was excellent.)
And the audience challenged the strategy – they posed very smart and thoughtful questions, speaking up in front of 40 people without a problem.
Why am I telling this story, and why do I think it is so important to share it? Because in almost all organizations and projects I have worked in so far, the workforce, so to say the workers, were not included in relevant questions. But these are the people who effectively produce the products! They have hundreds of small and big decisions to make every day even if “just” operating a machine. For some reason, it was not considered of importance to enroll them in strategic topics, to listen to their ideas and to give them clear signals of appreciation. There were excuses such as “we have three shifts, we will never have them here at the same time… we would have to stop the machines… this will cause extra hours… why should we bother them… is this even of relevance?” Yes, it is. Yes, and it is possible. The machines stood still and it cost extra money. And in my opinion there was never any money invested for a better purpose than at this time. For me, this was one of the biggest achievements I have ever seen in a project: when the rubber hits the road, magic happens.