Canadian Manufacturing

Cheap ways to spur productivity in the workplace

by Staff   

Manufacturing 3M Innovation productivity Simon Fraser University Sustainability waste reduction

Companies get results with outside-the-box tactics

VANCOUVER, B.C.: When SC Johnson embarked on a campaign to reduce waste, it took a roundabout way of getting workers on board.

The company removed personal trash bins from employees’ desks and instead set up a communal disposal all the way at the end of the hall.

That resulting “walk of shame” every time staff had to throw out trash wound up reducing personal garbage and inspiring new ideas to further cut company waste.

Whether the goal is sustainability, innovation or just the bottom line, these kinds of offbeat —and inexpensive—tactics can have a big impact in the workplace, according to a new report by the Network for Business Sustainability, a non-profit research association based in London, Ont.


Stephanie Bertels, the report’s author and an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, Business, cautions that companies must combine formal and informal approaches.

“If you’re trying to get innovation just by doing a bunch off wacky things, it’s not going to happen. Being innovative is ironically not through quirky and creative tactics but operational discipline,” she says.

Still, here are some offbeat ideas that, combined with a formal plan, actually worked:

1. Switch things up

In another waste-reduction initiative, one company reduced employees’ personal wastebaskets to the size of a drinking glass and compensated with larger than usual recycling bins.

2. Do nothing

To promote innovation, Canadian technology company 3M introduced “off the book” time. For a short period each day, employees were not supposed to work, but instead sit back, think up new ideas and tinker around.

3. Start a fight

Use internal competitions that pitch departments against each other as a way of driving productivity.

“I’ve seen this work with many companies. Often the rewards are just bragging rights,” Bertels says.

4. Mandate creativity

Some companies have started setting benchmarks for a minimum of pilot projects to be carried each year.

“Usually, it’s the other way around and directors are begging to run a new project,” Bertels says.

“Now, you have them out there looking for new opportunities.”

5. Please the people, without spending a penny.

Recognition programs that celebrate success are a cheap way to engage employees, says Alan Saks, a professor of human resources at the University of Toronto’s centre for industrial relations.

Saks says other inexpensive tactics include organizing social events that bring employees together and involving the company in community and volunteer work.

Click here to go back to the Manufacturing Leadership report on productivity.


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