During his tenure as General Electric’s CEO, business legend Jack Welch says he was determined to turn GE into a learning organisation by breaking down hierarchical boundaries. He started a program “Work Out” through the entire company.
Not exactly physical fitness, “Work out” actually meant taking unneeded work out of the processes by bringing managers and employees together to discuss challenges and examine options under the eye of a neutral facilitator. Welch tells the story of one Work out he attended in GE’s appliance business.
Along with more than two dozen employees sitting in the a Holiday Inn in Lexington, Kentucky, Welch watched as an employee gave a presentation on how to improve refrigerator door manufacturing. Just as he was describing a process on one part along the assembly line, the plant’s chief steward got frustrated, stood up, and interrupted the presentation.
He grabbed a marker and proceeded to tell everyone how the assembly line really worked, based on his own direct experience. He then sketched out in detail how the process could be improved. Impressed, the group quickly accepted his solution. There was no way senior management could have come up with such a detailed solution. They weren’t close enough to the business.
The key?Giving people permission to truly speak their minds and tapping into the hands-on knowledge of those actually doing the job. Welch adds that another worker later told him something similar; “For 25 years, you have paid for my hands when you could have had my brain as well- for nothing.”
De-briefing of this story
Too often People are intimidated by those above them. The fact is, the right answers don’t always comes from the top. But people sometimes need permission to speak up. Motivate all the employees to speak up and not only person who is at top. Create “Work out” kind of culture in your organisation too.
Time required to Share this story (with de-briefing) – less than 5 Minutes
This story can be used to share the importance of
1- Empowering Employees
2- Process improvement
3- Bottom up thinking
Jack Welch, Straight from the Gut (New York: Warner Business Books, 2001), pp. 182-184