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Encouraging Laundry Employee Creativity (Part 1)

“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?”

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: Kelly Reynolds, Sea Island Acquisitions, Sea Island, Ga.

The best way to encourage employee creativity is to communicate with them about any issues that need solutions.

It is also a great idea to let them know that if they have an issue, they can communicate it and then solicit solutions from them.

 I have been in this situation before and my approach was to let my people know what was going on—what was needed and what my ideas were to make it happen.

Then, I would let them know that if they had any ideas, I would be willing to listen and if something sounded like it would work, then we would try it.

It was also important to make sure that people have a stake in the outcome. Otherwise, why would they want to bother with input?

To train supervisors to listen better, I point out that all employees have a starting point.

Managers and supervisors typically have more experience and training. However, some subordinate-level employees may have training and experience you are not aware of. Most certainly people have different ideas about how to accomplish the same thing.

So, it is a good idea to ask people how they would do this or that since life should be a continuous learning and improvement process. It is important to listen without thinking of a response before the person is finished talking. That is a skill that most people need to work on to do effectively.

One of the most important aspects of listening that I have discovered is to be honest with people and communicate with them what is expected, what is going on and why things are happening the way they are.

If higher management says you need to do such and such, tell your employees that upper management says this is what we need to do. Then ask, “Do you have any ideas on how we can do better?

Equipment Manufacturing: Al Adcock, B&C Technologies, Panama City, Fla.

To engage your employees in any meaningful way requires a strong company culture of trust. 

Most businesses singularly focus on business strategy and provide little focus on the culture of the company. Culture change is a tremendous enabler of improvements in general because it gives the employees what they want: a feeling of belonging. 

David Brooks wrote in The New York Times about what he termed “thin” and “thick” cultures, where thin cultures take advantage of people’s strengths and treat those people as resources to be marshaled. 

They are thin since they are shallow and see-through, lacking substance. These thin companies are also unremarkable and leave no memory on customers or former employees.

Thick organizations make an impression that lasts and share collective rituals, origin stories, ideals, language and a common goal. 

“Thick institutions have a different moral ecology,” Brooks writes. “People tend to like the version of themselves that is called forth by such places.” 

When people like this version of themselves that is called forth, they will work hard for it and bond with others who also work there. Cultures like this attract talent, and without it, talent flounders.

Developing a strong company culture requires a believable and achievable mission statement as well as top-tier transparent communication. 

The desire of an employee to make the most of their talent represents a huge opportunity for organizations. Allowing them to develop and engage their natural talents sets the stage for leaps in productivity and customer engagement. 

Transparency in the culture impacts the entire organization and produces highly engaged employees and it is easy to default to transparency. Instead of asking yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary to share this?” ask instead, “Is it absolutely necessary to conceal this?”

Finally, ensure that you are recognizing and rewarding these valuable contributions. Recognition is incredibly important to a company’s culture and leads directly to lower turnover rates and higher productivity. 

When you add inspiration to the mix, productivity skyrockets. 

The Harvard Business Review reports that if satisfied employees are productive at an index of 100, then engaged employees produce at 144, almost half again as much. 

But then comes the real kicker: inspired employees score 225 on this scale. In other words, it takes 2.25 satisfied employees to generate the same output as one inspired employee. 

Richard Branson has it right: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business. It’s as simple as that. Healthy, engaged employees are your top competitive advantage.”

Chemicals Supply: John Schafer, Diversey, Fort Mill, S.C.

First, communicate with your supervisors your desire to have employee input on issues. Make sure they understand that you are encouraging their input. Make sure your supervisors are supportive and promote employee feedback. 

Second, communicate with your employees your desire to gain their input. Give details of some of the issues you are facing and ask for their solutions.

Make sure they understand that you want all their ideas—however crazy they might be. Brainstorming works best if there are no restraints. 

Make it a contest. Have rewards. Reward people for input—not just implemented ideas. 

Make gaining their input easy—a suggestion box or an e-mail to gather their ideas. 

Periodically communicate the ideas, even if not implemented, that the employees have shared. 

Have recognition for those employee ideas that were implemented.

Healthcare Laundry: William Muse, United Hospital Services, Indianapolis, Ind.

Employee engagement is important regardless of industry or job function, but especially so considering the many labor challenges we all face in our workplaces today.

As the frontline worker, the employee sees the many challenges that we face in our operations firsthand, and if you walk about and look closely, you might even find some questionable, albeit ingenious, fixes within their work environments.

That said, often some of the most basic conversations such as “How is your day going?” can lead to conversations that provide a new solution or create that “aha!” moment that can lead to positive change within the workplace.

We should never forget that ingenuity comes from the many challenges we all experience within the course of completing even the simplest of tasks. Your employees just want to do their job and do it well.

If we take the time to truly listen, we can often learn quite a lot from them!

Supervisors can certainly be challenging when attempting to foster the desired active listening skills as many supervisors have been in the industry for quite some time.

That said, as with any initiative, a top-down approach has been proven time and again to show great success.

If we as leaders take the time to show what active listening looks like, we can foster an environment in which supervisors not only have the skills and tools necessary to do so, but they see the value in these conversations and the value that can be gained from our team members regardless of job function or level.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion with long-term care laundry, consulting services and commercial laundry expert insights.

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