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Sep 26, 2014

A Fresh Look At An Old Idea

Intrinsic Motivation: A Fresh Look At An Old Idea


By Colin D. Baird


How should American industry compete in the future? How should the CEO enhance the commitment of the American worker towards meeting their competitor’s output and quality rates? Is there a direct link between America’s poor maintenance of man’s intrinsic motivation, (perhaps what we would refer to today as employee engagement today), and a working culture not focused on continuous improvement?


Intrinsic motivation is the idea that man has certain traits. Maintain those traits through continuous improvement efforts, and he will give you 100%. Fail to maintain it, and you take away his dignity, self esteem, and cooperative nature.


Dr. W. Edwards Deming taught executives about intrinsic motivation during his numerous trips to Japan from 1952 through 1993. Deming tried teaching his theory to American executives, but his ideas went largely unnoticed. This was due to the unparalleled success American manufacturers were having selling cars from 1965 through 1973. The manufacturing system wasn’t in crisis, or so the Americans thought.


That all changed of course when Toyota became a household name in 1980. Caught flat footed, American executives sought tariffs against competitive products from abroad that threatened their own company’s existence based upon quality, and improvements in production techniques the Japanese had already benefited from.


The efficiency levels of companies like Toyota, the new Ford, and smaller companies like New Balance Tennis Shoes, has now forced American executives to reconsider the effectiveness from previous mass production results



Chief Executives who do not engage employees in personally improving the organization and individual, feel the debilitating effects of a poor employment culture as man’s desire to learn, and cooperative nature is stripped away over time. Productivity falls, quality suffers, and the demands to increase production drive operating expenses up as more labor is added to meet customer demand.


However, when employees become engaged in problem solving, improvements, and active learning, transformations can begin to take place.


Faced with off shoring and losing jobs vitally important to the community, executives at New Balance Tennis Shoes made a decision to improve her people, and company before even considering shipping jobs overseas. With poor lead times, executives felt it was critical to the company’s success to improve. With a value added time however to the customer’s goods of just over 23 minutes, they knew there was loss of efficiency; they just had to learn how to find it. Working closely with employees, and a consultant, over a 5 year period they reduced lead times from 8 days to 3 hours. These improvements were only made possible through continued efforts to improve man, process, machine, and business systems. Today New Balance has revenues of more than 1.5B, and proudly remains the only tennis shoe manufacturer left manufacturing in America.


While executives are highly engaged, the closer you get to where transformation of the raw materials into finished goods takes place, the more rapidly the engagement levels of the American workers falls off. This is exactly where CEO’s need the commitment of workers to improve the business the most.


Employees who add the greatest value can help you transform your business by reducing and eliminating waste in the system. You must engage and regularly train them to do so.


What can you do to begin to transform your business while increasing your employee’s cooperative nature, self esteem, and desire to increase their knowledge levels? Here are four steps to aid you in beginning your transformation.



  1. Drive out fear. If employees and managers are fearful of retaliation, employee’s contributions towards improvement won’t be known to you. Results: Driving out fear means greater chances for organizational learning.


  1. Engage employees in creating and developing standardized work environments. This should be used to level out production flow, and match up cycle times with customer’s demands. Results: Inventory levels fall, throughput rates go up.


  1. Once standardized work has been introduced, and variation has been reduced, begin the improvement process through regular training events to reduce waste, and inefficiencies in the system. Result: Fewer defects, higher quality products, and lower long term costs as the root causes of bottlenecks are continually identified, and removed at each opportunity. Employees are no longer the perceived causes of poor production rates which allows the emphasis for improvement to be focused on the real cause.


  1. Embrace and expose problems, they are your greatest opportunity for improvement. Once employees learn to accept problems as a new method for learning how to improve, the system can be restored to its current state, and studied in detail for a more efficient and ideal future state. Result: The transformation begins as employees then become engaged in active learning focused on increasing productivity rates, and removing waste, and bloat from the system.


Improving culture enhances quality, throughput rates, and most importantly, employee morale.


Taking action is the hard part.