Satisfaction is Job 1
Remember the old advertisement: "At Ford, quality is Job 1"? Millions of man hours have been devoted to exploring quality improvement. Probably everyone from the CEO down understands that quality ultimately means profitability. However, quality is not "Job 1." It's really Job 2, and there's another Job 1 that makes quality more easily attained. Employee satisfaction is really Job 1. Once you achieve that, quality and then profitability pretty much fall into place.

No matter what industry you're in, job satisfaction and quality are inexorably linked. Quality and profitability are linked the same way. You'll constantly struggle for quality if employees are dissatisfied. A study published by the Journal of Health Care Marketing proved a strong correlation between nurses' job satisfaction and patients' perception of care, measured in terms of the patients' likelihood to return and recommend that hospital to others. The more satisfied the nurse, the better the perceived care was. The better the perceived care, the better the hospitals' bottom line.

Employees are a fact of life, and the good news is that the majority of your employees want to do a good job. The real key is developing the steps that lead to job satisfaction. Contrary to what you might believe, monetary compensation does not always lead the list when employees rank the factors that contribute to job satisfaction. The most common causes of dissatisfaction (and ongoing errors as well) are failure to set expectations, measure progress and provide regular feedback. Fix those factors, and you're well on your way to creating satisfied employees.

It's also important for the employees to understand the "why" behind the task. Failure to communicate this is common in many plants, and those companies are the ones that struggle for quality and profitability. When employees understand why they are doing something, they are more motivated to take ownership of the process. This is especially critical when the requirements change in the middle of the day or project. In these cases, failure to communicate the "why" easily leads to employees' assumption that management is clueless. It's a quick way to deflate both motivation and morale and decrease satisfaction.

So how do you increase job satisfaction? It's not that difficult, and it's probably already what you're doing in your Lean efforts. You measure. Set the expectations and measure the results. Then you share that information with the employee. When employees don't get any feedback, either on your expectations and their results, they have no clue how they're really performing. They may have a sense of it, but their ideas and your expectations may not match up. This disconnect leads to employee dissatisfaction and manager frustration.

Objective performance measurement is the linchpin to job satisfaction, pride, quality and ultimately your bottom line. No employee wants to hear a vague commendation ("You're doing a good job."). It's nice, but it really doesn't mean much. Now if you were to say, "I see you've improved your throughput by 27 units per hour, and that's great!" you're making a bigger impact. The employee has definitive feedback and knows exactly where the bar is. How hard will it be to reach 28… or 30?

The flip side of this detailed performance measurement is that it makes your managers' jobs so much easier. They have hard numbers and qualitative measurements. They don't have to rely on gut instinct about performance that is too often dismissed by employees as inaccurate because… well, it is. Gaining these precise measurements is not that difficult and does not require a huge capital expenditure. It's what we do every day with MPower, and we're happy to discuss your specific needs with you.

You can boost performance by tying incentives to it, and when you have precise, quantitative measurements, it's easy to administer. Share the goal, set the expectation (including deadlines) and provide ongoing and real-time feedback and you can bank on both quality and profitability.