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Encouraging Laundry Employee Creativity (Conclusion)

“We’ve had a few ‘insurmountable’ problems solved by employee creativity—no matter the department. How can we encourage our employees to share creative ideas and train supervisors to listen better?”

Long-Term Care Laundry: Juli Reding, Wood-Lawn Inc., Batesville, Ark.

Regardless of how big or small a company may be, we are always looking for ways to improve by being more cost-effective and improving employee retention and customer satisfaction.

To accomplish those things, we should use our greatest asset: our employees.

Employees are an invaluable resource of ideas and in helping to solve problems. We should always remember that a fresh perspective could provide that breakthrough you need to help solve a chronic problem you’ve been struggling with.

Most of them know the company as well as you do. They are the ones who are completing the day-to-day tasks, and they can see some things that could be improved upon.

So, what can we do to encourage employee creativity and for them to share those creative ideas and problem-solving solutions with the company?

I would say step one is to be an ACTIVE LISTENER. Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. We should teach active listening to all employees so we all can understand what people are really saying in conversations and meetings.

Most of us are truly not good listeners. If we were, we would have already solved several problems. We have to make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, understand the complete message the person is communicating.

You must pay attention to the other person very carefully. You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by mentally preparing a rebuttal while the other person is still speaking.

Nor can you allow yourself to get bored and lose focus on what the other person is saying.

We want to welcome ideas from all levels and all departments of our organization. You know great ideas and solutions can sometimes come from an unexpected source. That one employee who generally keeps to themselves could have the solution to the problem.

Some employees may feel intimidated and have a fear of embarrassment or anxiety. So, let’s remove any communication barriers so employees can have the ability to share. Tell them they can drop off a note, e-mail you, leave you a voicemail or mention the idea in a meeting.

We all need to remember that there are no “bad” ideas. So, avoid criticizing any ideas. When someone gives you an idea, you should acknowledge and respond effectively.

I would start giving employees more independence. This lets employees know that we trust and value them.

When that employee hired on it was to do a job, so we need to let them do the job. This can sometimes lead to an employee making mistakes or decisions you would not have approved of, but it isn’t the end of the world. I for one have learned and grown from mistakes I have made over the years.

We need to remember as long as the work is being done, deadlines are being met and the company is seeing an increase in profit, there’s no need to constantly look over the shoulder of your employees.

Give employees more flexibility to try an idea. If the idea fails, discuss what went wrong or why the idea was not really feasible. Failure can be a learning experience that can lead to the next idea that just might pan out.

Over the years I would say a highly creative and fun way to get employees “brainstorming” and engaging in the workplace is white butcher paper.

You can take large sheets of butcher paper and hang some up on the wall by the time clock and in the employee breakroom. You put some butcher paper sheets on the breakroom tables.

Wherever you put the butcher paper make sure to scatter a variety of writing utensils for them to use on the paper. This will give employees a place to scribble down their idea when unprompted.

This could also create a spontaneous “brainstorming” session. Brainstorming can help to get people to think out of the box.

I hope that my contribution has provided you with some ideas. I wish all of you success.

Consulting Services: Jon Witschy, Spindle, Woodridge, Ill.

This is a great comment and question. It makes sense to go to the people who work every day with the equipment and processes in your plant for ideas on making improvements or addressing issues. 

As a software vendor, we have a “Feedback” link for users logged onto our online customer portal. We try to gather thoughts that arise while people are actively working with our solution.

Schedule brainstorming sessions. Put a “Problem Solving” or “Innovation” session on the agenda for regular team meetings and create a habit out of it. If people know there will be an opportunity to share, then their creativity may come out.

Do so at all levels. By getting supervisors accustomed to making suggestions at higher-level meetings, they might open up to listening for ideas in plant floor huddles or one-on-one interactions. 

An occasional company-wide meeting, which brings together departments that don’t normally work together, could become a great idea-generator since personnel can identify potential cause and effect (e.g., “When goods are delivered to our department in this manner, we have to take these extra steps…”).

Form committees. The “Safety Committee” has become somewhat ubiquitous, but consider others, such as an “Operations Committee,” a “Quality Improvement Committee” or a “Process Flow Committee.” Any of these might recognize an opportunity to improve a procedure, potentially reducing operating costs.

Install a Suggestion Box. Your team members might be shy about presenting ideas in a group setting, but one of them could have the silver bullet in mind for improving a process. Create a separate committee that reviews items submitted in this manner.

Incentivize idea generation. For something that is successfully implemented in the plant, offer a small award (or a big one, if it ends up saving the organization a lot of money). 

Alternatively, hold contests with prizes. I recall a nationwide chain that put on a competition with local, regional and then national winners, ultimately resulting in improved operations across the country.

Whatever approach is taken, your best bet for encouraging employees to get creative is to enact one of their ideas. It might take some time to solicit that first solution and put it into place, but seeing the vision from a coworker come to fruition could inspire others to become problem-solvers themselves.

Commercial Laundry: Lee Baldauf, Superior Linen Service, Tacoma, Wash.

I try never to view a problem as “insurmountable.” Some are, such as the cost of fuel, inflation, textile and parts availability. These things can even be addressed and accounted for, but the production and service challenges are always subject to one good idea, usually something simple, that can cure an issue.

Being the maintenance guy, I have to satisfy as many people as I can. I don’t always get it right on the first try, and I doubt it will ever be fast enough.

One thing I noticed about owners in this industry, right away, is their willingness to hear a suggestion from anyone, and they suggest trying it if it sounds like it may streamline production or eliminate an issue.

I try to remind my crew to always be considerate when hearing complaints, but I also remind them, often, we can do a lot of immediate troubleshooting with a brief conversation with the person running the machine.

I am blown away watching an equipment operator who is learning English as a second language navigate their way through an interphase to switch from a certain formula or function to another.

Some of the operators at our company have three decades here. For me to discount their input would be foolish on my part.

To keep this relationship with them is as simple as being respectful and appreciative. They want to be heard. We just need to be ready and willing to listen.

Sure, some ideas aren’t the best, but oftentimes those are mine!

Miss Part 1 with thoughts from experts in hotel/motel/resort laundry, equipment manufacturing, chemicals supply and healthcare laundry? Click HERE to read it!

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].