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“Ideas are Free” is also a book by Alan G. Robinson and Dean Schroeder. The authors provide a roadmap for integrating the management of ideas into their operating system. The idea system is now new. Toyota traces its integration into one of its factories in mid-1951.

The system is simple but, as Steve Jobs said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Experience tells me that many ingredients must be right to make the system work. Some of these ingredients are:

• Provide the conditions for psychological safety

• Targets for improvement are connected to performance indicators

• Daily visual management and communication

• Change is set as an experiment conducted by operators when possible

• The leader acts as a coach and supports experimentation while coaching scientific thinking

• Ideas are requested to be as small as possible to obtain quick learning

• And many more “details”

When all the ingredients are in place, amazing things happen: results improve, frontline team members develop their improvement capabilities and leaders grow their coaching for improvement skills. The organization continuously improves its improvement capability.

The attached picture shows the velocity of ideas in a healthcare organization I supported. When employees lead process improvement at the rate of two or more ideas per month toward defined process metrics, the organization has achieved a sustainable culture for continuous improvement. It would be difficult to remove the habit to see problems and opportunities and solve them.

Many organizations face a high level of turnover which makes them wonder about their employee engagement. Instead of looking at annual surveys, they may want to look at their improvement idea system. There is no better indicator of engagement than people wanting to improve their processes.

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