Short-Interval-Scheduling Creates the Most Effective Interface for Employee Engagement
Best Kept Secret of Productivity Improvement
Short-Interval Scheduling is one of the most widely used yet least promoted, least understood management techniques of the past century. Predating World War II, it was innovative at its inception and, even though not acknowledged as such, serves as part of the philosophical foundation for much of today's Lean, JIT, work management, and agile manufacturing concepts.
In its simplest terms, Short-Interval Scheduling (SIS) is an application of the principle that if one needs to assure achieving a goal by a given date, progress should be checked frequently before that date. This allows time for any necessary corrective action, assuring success by the due date.
SIS applies that principle to daily work, controlling progress at intershift intervals. It’s the process of first quantifying how much work should be accomplished at intervals throughout the day to achieve the daily objective. Then identifying how much work actually gets done at those intervals, taking action on and documenting problems that cause work not to meet expectations. In so doing, it describes a basic function of line management.
Why it works
An Industrial Engineering tenet holds that any uncontrolled work situation will experience 50 percent lost time. The lost time appears in multiple forms. It is time spent on noise created by the organization and the system: barriers stopping work, interruptions, delays starting work and lack of available work, each requiring corrective action to put things right that have gone wrong. All of which has been potentially going on for so long it is accepted as part of the day and the nature of the work.
Lost time also includes work that could be eliminated from the key work by doing it in a better thought-out method. The other 50 percent of the day is spent doing what should be done, the right way, at an optimum comfortable pace that can be maintained without fatigue or stress and with the required concentration and precision.
How it works
Short-interval Scheduling provides tools to define plans of what should occur, before work begins for the day, and then monitor work progress at intervals throughout the day. Doing so before work begins can eliminate lost time due to work flow problems and unavailability of work before work begins. Monitoring identifies the occurrence and impact of barriers and interruptions almost as they occur during the day. Many of these problems may have been occurring without line management immediate awareness absent the tools.
The Short-Interval Scheduling Initiative
A robust program of Short-interval Scheduling has six dimensions:
• Implement methods improvements where the organization recognizes that there is a better way of performing work.
• Establish how much time work should take when it is done the right way under good operating conditions.
• Provide line management with tools to visibly measure, schedule and control interday work performance at a minimum of twice during each shift.
• Formalize problem identification and solving for work delays and barriers.
• Provide line management with training in core skills of workforce supervision supporting use of the designed tools and processes.
• Measure and graph work performance in periodic indicators (Key Process Indicators: KPI’s) supporting multi-level, cross-functional review.
During the course of establishing the work-to-time relationships that form the basis for scheduling and control, problem areas can come to light. Unpredictable variation in time required to perform work is a classic indicator of improvement potential. Methods improvements should proceed while the other elements of the program continue in parallel.
Methods for establishing how much time work should take (when it is done the right way at an optimum pace) will vary depending on the nature of the work. For equipment-paced work, engineered run rates are the base. Non-equipment paced, repetitive work can establish time requirements for work under good operating conditions by industrial engineering techniques. This can be done in both white collar and blue collar work environments. Engineering, construction, maintenance, and plant turnarounds are
measured by carefully defined estimates defined in enough detail to allow daily control.
The daily tools to apply SIS must be simple to use while providing the scheduling and interval follow up mechanisms necessary. There are many examples of what form these can take. But the exact configuration will vary depending on the organization’s culture and current systems.
Where the daily tools provide the "what" of SIS, the supervisory training provides the "how" of the tools. How to work with quantitative data setting expectations with employees. How to follow up and constructively problem solve with quantitative data. How to do root cause analysis and solve problems, building cross-functional teamwork. How to interpret and use KPI’s. Without this training, employees can find the "what" of SIS, follow up using quantitative data, intimidating.
Lastly there is ongoing measurement and reporting of KPI’s. Over the years, there has been a lot of variation in how best to use KPI’s. The organization needs to review its current practices with industry best practices. Aligning all levels in the organization with how to use KPI’s supports sustainability of SIS benefits.
Short-Interval Scheduling, implemented in the right situation and applied as described above, can as much as double productivity levels. The process of getting there will generate additional benefits that include improved supervisory skills, organizational alignment on performance improvement and increased cross-functional cooperation (also known as reduced organizational stove piping).
The “Next Big Thing” of the Mid 2000 Teens
Recent surveys found that 70 to 80% of business leaders rate employee engagement as an urgent or important priority. Employee engagement programs, and their intended benefit in discretionary employee performance and retention, are creating competitive advantages for those corporations applying them successfully. Many CEO’s see engagement as the single most important factor affecting corporate futures.
No matter the industry, size or location, companies are struggling to unlock the mystery of why performance varies from one workgroup to the next. Performance fluctuates widely and unnecessarily in most companies, in no small part from the lack of consistency in how people are managed.
Gallup has studied performance at hundreds of companies. Measured the engagement of 27 million employees and more than 2.5 million work units over the past two decades.
Gallup’s findings: managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Gallup goes on to estimate an annual cost in lost U.S. productivity of more than $450 billion.
Employee engagement is not new. A recent article in Forbes magazine said that, “the concepts of ‘employee engagement’ have been with us for many years. More than 30 years ago Gallup and other companies pioneered the concept of the ‘engagement survey’. The roots of these surveys started in the late 1800s when Fredrick Taylor, the pioneering industrial engineer, studied how people’s attitude impacted their productivity in the steel industry.”
The Journal of Managerial Psychology sees engagement as based in Social Exchange Theory (SET). “SET is one of the most influential conceptual paradigms in organizational behavior. It states that obligations are generated through a series of interactions between parties in a state of reciprocal interdependence.” So engagement improves when the organization contributes to that equation.
However, money is not the key motivator once compensation meets basic needs. So what then can companies do to increase engagement?
Today’s Programs - Surveys
Programs begin with surveys and then prescribe “levers” the company can apply to improve engagement. Practitioners recognize over 300 levers that include initiatives like creating a culture of flexibility, providing day-care, and allowing FedEx days (for one day, work on anything you want, with anyone you want, with the requirement to produce something constructive by the end of the day). These include corporate work-life policies (flextime, day care), management skills (emotional intelligence, coaching and counseling), employee development (onboarding, flexible career-pathing), and work environment (employee collaboration, open work areas).
While the research on the effectiveness of all 300 levers is ongoing, academic and practitioner studies alike have found two fundamentals that clearly work: Perceived Supervisory Support (PSS) and Perceived Organizational Support (POS). These have the highest direct influence of all levers on engagement. PSS is determined by the actions an individual, whom the employee sees as their supervisor, or management in general for POS, takes in solving problems, holding people accountable, and clarifying roles and responsibilities.
Taking engagement a step further, the Forbes article said that, “The change we need to make is to redefine engagement beyond an ‘annual HR measure’ to a continuous, holistic part of an entire business strategy. Engagement must go deeper than an annual survey and subsequent responses (levers). It should be integrated into the continuous, ongoing business processes that employees work with each day.”
The Real Answer – Line Management Actions
So managers, in particular supervisors, have a demonstrable effect on employee engagement and therefore productivity and retention (people join a company but leave a boss). Supervisors have more direct contact with the highest percentage of any organization’s employee population than any other management level. But what support do supervisors get in filling that role?
Too often, when a supervisory position opens, the company will look within the unit for the new supervisor. They will pick the most company-oriented, best worker in the unit and make them supervisor.
On Friday, they were a worker. Monday morning they are the supervisor. Frequently with no structure or process on what supervisors should do. All they have to go by is what their supervisor did, who learned the same way from the supervisor before them: questionable habits handed down.
The unit loses two ways. It just lost its best worker and it just got an untrained supervisor. There is only one way the productivity can eventually go with no further training and coaching.
So what are the supervisor behaviors that engender employee engagement? They center on communication. This is a rhythm of communication (an ongoing and predictable process) that builds the relationship between the supervisor and direct reports. There are best practices within this process.
To start, this means MBWA (Management By Walking Around), not closed up in an office. Next, set expectations: spend half an hour a week reviewing what the group needs to accomplish for the coming week.
Then, follow up: use a different thirty minutes to review the group’s metrics soliciting problems and solutions with the group. Commence root cause analysis with other functional groups worked in a way that builds teams rather than finds violators.
These and other behaviors (actions) should be clearly laid out in the work management process, then trained, coached in the live environment, and reinforced by leadership. The process describes the basics on which supervisors can build as they grow in their role. These are the basics to employee engagement.
Add Them Together: Short-Interval Scheduling and Employee Engagement
Work management is not the computer system. It is the sequence of organizational behaviors that support getting the organization’s work done. This includes non-computer activity from work initiation through execution, KPI review and problem solving.
The work management process, based on proven short-interval scheduling concepts, describes ongoing activities where line management interacts with the work force to accomplish the departmental mission. These include supervisors’ regular, clear setting of expectations. One-on-one follow up with employees on set intervals throughout the week/day. Regular review of organizational performance, recognizing achievement, identifying where corrective action is needed. Providing opportunities for employees to learn, grow. Involving employees in problem solving.
These are the day-to-day activities that employee engagement programs identify as central to improving engagement. And, since line management accounts for seventy percent of the variation in engagement (according to several major studies), an organization has to get them right to make progress improving engagement.
Supervisory roles and actions, as all our best practices, improve productivity.
Our best practices of work management identify daily and weekly interactions where supervisors and managers engage the workforce. Discuss and quantify upcoming requirements. Solicit input. Follow up throughout the workday. Review and recognize accomplishment. Initiate problem-solving efforts. Coach employees.
Combining Two Consulting Skill Sets
Management Development and Organizational Design (MD/OD) train managers how to use the management cycle of setting expectations, follow up, reinforcing feedback, problem solving, and coaching and counseling in employee motivation. The process is people sensitive and highly effective. Its drawback is lack of structure for where and when to use its elements.
Process consulting designs and implements SIS disciplines that assure maximum utilization of employees and supervisory involvement in accomplishing a department’s work, on time and on spec. Its drawback is that the frequent supervisory interface can be intimidating, lacking people sensitivity, and even putting supervisors in a task master role. SIS is often viewed as a temporary condition, abandoned once specific business goals are met.
However, combining the two sets of skills pays off by sustaining the gains of increased performance. The elements of the management cycle are easily tied to specific events in the SIS process. Describe expectations at the beginning of the period: how much should be accomplished. Engage employees in problem solving where expectations are not met. Follow up with everyone on a regular frequency, reviewing accomplishment, recognizing success. In effect, put humanity in SIS using the management cycle.