Tired of underachieving employees? 5 steps on how to transform them.
Updated: Feb 22
Too many mistakes, lack of motivation from employees, miscommunication, overdue projects, micromanagement, so much to do but so little time, upset clients…
That was my predicament until a little while ago. I oversaw a production crew at Arizona Cap Company, an establishment dedicated to providing custom decorated apparel. While the crew was technically “trained”, it made little sense to me why I still had to micromanage to prevent them from printing the wrong design or ensuring the job got out in time.
I tried bonus incentives, tracked performance metrics on each employee, pep talks, kaizen, and poka-yoke among other things. I only got marginal returns on the best days.
Then I stumbled upon something from an unlikely source that changed everything. Scrum.
That awkward moment in rugby when you link arms, bow your head and smash into the opposing team to try to get possession of the ball.
Okay, so that is only a reference to the actual Scrum I want to share with you.
Back in 1995, two software developers by the names of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber joined forces and developed a revolutionary new technique for efficient and quality software production. They called it Scrum.
The core philosophy of Scrum is that any capable team can address complex adaptive problems, and still produce creative, high-quality deliverables that will wow the customer and make the deadline.
After researching Scrum thoroughly, I decided to give it a shot. My goodness! I have never seen a better ROI on anything I have done for the company.
Communication problems: gone.
Waste: in one month, we beat our goal by 82%.
Job completion: 100% on-time.
Employees: exceptional self-starters
So what is the secret recipe of Scrum? Here are my 5 steps on how I transformed the team using Scrum:
1. Change the job titles and establish the team.
It can be a scary thing to change job titles. In a way, it is like changing your identity. But, chances are you are reading this article because you need exceptional employees, not mediocre ones. At Arizona Cap, everyone involved in production received one title: team member. This shredded any notion that any person would be treated any better than the other simply because he held a different title.
Outside of the team, the one in charge of communicating with customers and determining requirements for the jobs was called the product owner. His job was to provide work for the team and to communicate the jobs clearly to the team (more on that later).
One member of the team, me, was selected to become the scrum master. I liaised with the product owner about the job requirements and with the team on how to use Scrum methods to get the jobs done. This position should be filled by someone who can manage the team and is dedicated to sharing scrum principles with his or her team.
2. Determine the length of sprints and vote on goals.
Not exactly like track and field, but close.
Scrum breaks up work and evaluation into sections of time no longer than a month, called sprints. The purpose of these sprints is to allow the team to work on goals that benefit the team and consequently the customers and the business.
At the beginning of the sprint, have every team member present and have the scrum master conduct the meeting. Let everyone propose a couple of goals and vote unanimously on the ones that should be accomplished during the sprint.
For our first sprint, our goals included:
a. Less than $100 in replacing damaged product
b. At least 90% on-time job completion
c. Rearrange the shop floor to reduce the number of steps in performing embroidery tasks
You and your team will love the unity that will be formed during this meeting.
3. Post tasks on a board and have employees volunteer for tasks.
This is how our communication issues got resolved and helped develop a sense of ownership among the team members.
Post a task board like the one above where everyone can see it. The product owner will post upcoming jobs or tasks in a column of the board called, “To Do”. The cards that the job will be written on will contain basic information necessary to complete the task such as due date and requirements. I have an example of one of our cards in the picture below.
At the beginning of the shift every day, gather everyone for a brief meeting called the Daily Scrum. The meeting is never more than 15 minutes long, and its purpose is to allow team members to express what they did the previous day to help meet the sprint goals and what they will do today. They will also make aware of any obstacles that occurred or may occur so that team members can volunteer their skills to overcome these obstacles during the day.
Tasks that will be worked on this day will have their cards moved to the “In Progress” column of the board. The team member will then say when he or she expects to complete the task. Once the task is completed, the task moves to the “Completed” column.
Important note: only let the individual(s) who volunteer or work on the tasks move the cards. This helps develop a sense of ownership among the team.
4. Post customer feedback.
While not an official part of Scrum, publicly posting customer feedback provides valuable insight into how well the team is working. I can remember smiles growing on the faces of my team members when they saw what part of their work was appreciated. It also allowed me as a Scrum Master to counsel and mentor any team member where the feedback warranted some improvement.
5. Review, Reflect and Plan the next sprint.
At the end of each sprint, take some time to show off the team’s accomplishments to the product owner and to all the team members. I dropped a giant stack of completed cards on the table and saw a sense of pride come upon the team’s faces.
This is the ideal time to also share what customers thought of during the sprint. Use their feedback to identify areas of strength and improvement.
See how the team did with the sprint goals and seek out ideas on how to improve for the next sprint. This would be an excellent time to vote on new goals and to seek out feedback from the team members.
At the end of our first sprint, Dylan, the General Manager was blown away at the transformation of his company. Reduced costs, effective communication, and speedy and quality job completion were now a reality. Most importantly, he saw the incredible change in his employees. There was energy, responsibility, and pride in all of them.
Today, Arizona Cap Company continually improves its services using the Scrum method. Its customers have raved on Google about the high-quality embroidery and screen printing and are sometimes startled at how fast it arrives at their door. You can see their reviews by clicking here.
Your company can see huge benefits and positive visibility by employing the Scrum method not only in production, but in sales, HR, marketing, and IT. For more information on the Scrum method, check out Scrum.org.