Articles

An Empowerment Model For Cleaning The Lab

April 25, 2021 - By Legitimate Leadership,

In a major chemical plant, an ongoing problem was that its testing laboratory, which operated 24×7, was old and dirty, and the small team of analysts who staffed it were resistant to cleaning it properly. They variously said it was “just old” and would “just get dirty again”, and that “cleaning it would be like polishing a turd”.

Checklists which had been drawn up for cleaning were too long and were not adhered to. Not surprisingly, the dirtiness of the laboratory negatively affected the analysts’ morale.

Management did not have the will to change this and did not hold the analysts to account for their failure to clean – especially at night and on weekends, when no managers were present anyway.

But then things changed:

  • In stages, a new laboratory section was built, and the old laboratory was revamped – so that its total size was doubled. This made the challenge of cleaning it yet greater. It was now a brand-new, remodelled laboratory and it would be, for instance, visited by outsiders (who, the plant management hoped, would admire it). But engagement of the analysts in cleaning the new facility was still minimal, and no one was taking ownership of it.
  • A new person was appointed to the role of quality supervisor; cleaning was, of course, one of her responsibilities.
  • An EHS (Environment, Health & Safety) event with hazardous waste occurred in the laboratory.

The new quality supervisor’s problem was as before: she could not find a way to motivate the analysts to clean the laboratory. Various systems and methods had been tried without success in the past.

During the revamping of the laboratory, the management in that area of the plant underwent a virtual, one-day introduction to the Legitimate Leadership Model, plus some follow-up coaching calls with a Legitimate Leadership UK consultant.

Prompted by this training and coaching, the new quality supervisor eventually formulated a plan to take herself altogether out of the decision-making process regarding cleaning, and to give the problem to the analysts to solve.

Each of the analysts was given an area to take full ownership of, where they would do inventory control, setting up of equipment and deep cleaning. Surface cleaning by each shift would still apply, but deep cleaning and scheduling of regular instrument maintenance would be done by the analyst assigned to that area. The analysts were given the authority to change or set up their areas in the way they opted for.

The analysts could request any organizational items or improvement items that they felt were needed. A number of new cleaning machines have been installed, for instance.

When the new quality supervisor was asked for advice by analysts, she pointed out possible ways of solving problems, but the final decisions were for them.

Monthly informal one-on-one walk-throughs by the new quality supervisor with each analyst have prompted them to think of new ways to do things. These discussions have been crucial to keeping the momentum going.

The new quality supervisor says there has been some hesitation in asking for new or different things; keeping informal conversations going and encouraging the analysts to try some things or ask for things that they thought might work has helped them feel more confident.

“Showing them that I not only care about their ideas but also trust them to make the decisions about what is needed has increased their confidence as well. Empowering them to take ownership cannot be just words spoken – you must show them you mean what you say and support their decisions, even if you think they may not work out.”

Each analyst has come up with a slightly different system, but all of their systems conform to the Japanese manufacturing excellence system to which the whole plant adheres.

The new quality supervisor says that the input from Legitimate Leadership expanded her options to address the problem.

This system has been in operation for a few months and has resulted in big improvements. Each analyst is more engaged and has taken more interest in finding the best way to set up and maintain his/her area.

The quality control supervisor says that if this “empowerment” system had not been implemented, she probably would have continued to send emails cajoling the analysts to clean better.

It is planned to hold the analysts to account by incorporating evaluations of their cleaning work in quarterly evaluations, which will contribute to their overall annual performance evaluations.

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