Six Sigma and more: Take care of the family

David SchwinnThis month, David defines ‘family’ in terms of work community, and shares insights about improving the wellbeing of employees while enhancing profitability

Last weekend, we took the family, 16 of us, on a ski weekend. It was amazing. We are incredibly lucky. We haven’t done such a thing in 17 years, when our first grandchild, Claire, was only one month old. Life gets complex and 17 years fly by.

That experience reminded me of work my wife, Carole, and I did many years ago with Dad’s Products in Pennsylvania. In those days, their mission was to take care of the family. By family, they meant their employees. They were wildly successful in those days, in part because they knew intuitively that if they took care of their employees, their employees would take care of their customers. Perhaps one of the most notable things they did was to take all their employees on vacation together in any year in which they made an adequate profit. That was most years in those days.

More recently, I heard about Starbucks changing their policy about scheduling employees to work. It is a small move toward better taking care of their employees, but, given the potential downside costs of implementing the policy, it is worthy of note. Jodi Kantor of The New York Times has done a nice job of documenting this whole issue of employee scheduling. As I considered these two examples, I was reminded that our upcoming book, The Transformative Workplace: Growing People, Purpose, Prosperity, and Peace, speaks indirectly to this same issue.

The first chapter involves meeting basic needs. Jodi Kantor articulately describes the lives of so many of the people who work for our companies. They need to work more than one job to struggle to make ends meet. They need help with child care because they need to be at work. They go to college to try to better themselves and carry too large a class load in order to qualify for financial aid, and keep going to school because they can’t afford to pay back the loans they have accrued. Their health is constantly in jeopardy because they can afford little or no health care and because they have no time to sleep. Despite the cost of helping out here, we know that if we learn what these needs are and attempt to intelligently help, absenteeism and turnover will decrease and productivity will improve.

The next few chapters continue focusing on the need for us to better get to know our employees so we can better understand and respond to their personal and professional goals and even what makes them happy. This seems like basic motivational theory, as I think about it. These early chapters also encourage us to explore the assumptions that we all have that keep us stuck in the present, when we so desperately need to be creative and innovative.

The middle of the book deals with how we can be together in ways that simultaneously serve our organizations and the folks who work there. Giving our employees time and places to be quiet and reflect is one of the practices we observed in organizations around the world. Others created situations for their employees to be exposed to beauty in unusual ways. The results were a deeper appreciation for their products, for the materials they used, and for each other. The center of the book finally explores the value of recreating our work and our intention and mission to more fully embrace both what is good for the organization and what is good for the folks who work there.

The end of the book explores how we encourage our employees to engage with the world beyond our organization as a way to both enhance our organizations and our “family.” It begins by exploring how we can give back to the communities that have been the home and support for our organizations. That idea is expanded as examples of how organizations restore our whole earth for future generations are shared. The book concludes by sharing how we can help our employees find and nurture an inner peace and how that tiny start helps create a world that is peaceful for us all.

I think taking care of the family will greatly enhance our Six Sigma efforts. Although you can start anywhere and go anywhere within this structure, I suggest you start at the beginning. Begin to better know your family. Ask deeper questions, listen more carefully, and then propose a change or two. And remember that if the basic needs of the family are not met first, it is hard to move forward.

I treasure your comments and questions.