Sometimes the best ideas for new metrics come from front-line workers, not management.
Suggestion boxes first gained visibility in the 1700s, when Japanese citizens were encouraged to drop suggestions into a box situated at the Shogun's palace. Royalty in Italy, Russia, Sweden, and the UK followed suit. It was a way to gather feedback and ideas from the general populace.
Suggestion boxes still operate in companies today, although some pundits say that they can quickly become repositories for gripes and complaints instead of solutions.
To address that challenge, Wayne Chaneski, executive director of the Center for Manufacturing Systems at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, recommended more than 10 years ago that suggestion boxes be rebranded as solution boxes.
I want to take that idea one step further—to recommend that more companies incorporate the role of the suggestion/solution box into their analytics.
Why do this?
If you look at research conducted by McKinsey and other firms, the primary drivers of analytics are senior managers. These managers, along with highly skilled data scientists, are the ones who are posing the analytics questions and developing the research algorithms, as they should be.
However, hourly workers are an untapped resource of information. They see which products are being returned, or where failures are most likely to occur during manufacturing, or which carrier is almost always going to be delivering a parcel damaged or late, or which part of the warehouse is being refrigerated and doesn't need to be. Most companies are not capturing this knowledge in their operational analytics.
Last year, I asked a manager who was charged with implementing green practices and energy efficiency in the warehouse how he was advancing these initiatives. "I established a suggestion box for employees onto floor," he said. "Very quickly, we identified and implemented practices such as recycling, changing out lighting, improving the seals on doors, and modifying our HVAC so we only refrigerated zones in the warehouse that needed refrigeration."
A similar practice can be used to create bottom-up analytics observations that come from operations employees who are closest to the problems that really impact operational efficiency.
Collect ideas from employees about how to improve operations
This idea collection phase would be a new implementation of the employee suggestion box into a solutions box that could be posted online. A joint committee of employees and managers in the specific operational area being reviewed would evaluate the solutions suggestions on a monthly basis, selecting the ones with greatest promise.
Run what-if models to see how proposed solutions could impact operations
This is where analytics enter in, because most analytics software has what-if modeling capabilities that enable you to see the potential impact of a proposed solution before you implement it. What-if models would be run for the solutions selected by the employee-management team to see which solutions are most likely to deliver the greatest benefit, return on investment (ROI), and alignment with business strategic goals.
SEE: 60 ways to get the most value from your big data initiatives (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Pilot ideas that rise to the top
If you don't endeavor to put some if these great ideas to work, you will quickly lose credibility for your solutions program with your employees. For this reason, it is important to create small pilots for favored solutions that pass the what-if test within 60 days of committee go-forward approval.
Create metrics visibility
When I was a VP of manufacturing, we posted charts of number of days without an employee accident on the floor. This was an important safety metric that every employee entering work saw every day. In the same vein, you should physically or online post metrics from your analytics that compare the performance of a new solution being piloted against the baseline metrics of how the operation worked prior to the solution pilot. By giving employees direct access to the metrics and the results, you keep them vested and involved in the project and the analytics.
Recognize and reward employees
If a solution pilot is successful and you choose to implement it in production, the employees who suggested it should be recognized throughout the department and the company — and they should be rewarded. One of the best ways to reward employees who are saving your company money and delivering benefits is by a meaningful cash bonus that they did not expect. This makes employees feel valued — and it improves your odds of developing loyalty and keeping your best employees for the long term.
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