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How the Best Manufacturing Workplace Drives Innovation

How the Best Manufacturing Workplace Drives Innovation

The manufacturing and production industry needs innovation. With AI looming over employees’ heads, manufacturing organizations need to tap into the human potential of their people to stay ahead in the marketplace.

Great Place to Work® recently highlighted some of the ways that winners on our Best Workplaces in Manufacturing & Production list are empowering employees to come up with new ideas to help their companies thrive in changing times.

Stryker, number one on the list, sees innovation as an opportunity to engage employees. “Having a truly innovative organization is about getting everybody’s voice at the table,” said Katy Fink, Stryker’s VP and Chief Human Resources Officer.

This is not just rhetoric coming from the top – employees at Stryker told Great Place to Work that they feel valued and empowered to contribute ideas.

“It's a blessing to be able to come into work every day excited about the possibilities for growth, challenge, and inspiration,” said one employee. “Stryker does a great job at giving employees freedom to be the change they want to see and help develop products and ideas along the way.”

Another told us, “There is no ceiling in trying to make Stryker better. You are allowed to bring your thoughts and ideas to life.”

Practices that spark innovation

Innovation doesn’t have to be a major R&D imitative or an expensive investment in a new tool or process. The best organizations inspire employees to contribute their ideas in many ways.

Stryker takes a few different approaches to innovation, big and small, to help employees feel like they can make an impact.

Giving employees a voice

Stryker makes a concerted effort to hear ideas from employees on the ground floor. A team of operations leaders and peer-chosen manufacturing staff meet for "Voice of the Plant." They gather every month to discuss big ideas for the firm. This way, ideas from the frontline are surfaced to leadership, ensuring employees’ voices are heard and respected.

Employees working on the manufacturing floor in their Medical unit can write down their suggestions for process improvements. Leaders review suggestions and provide feedback about why or why not the idea will be implemented.

Ideas that get the green light (which have included purchasing more ergonomic tools and adding extra brooms in different areas of the floor), are posted as “little wins” on a board so employees can see the impact they’re making.

Competitions to spark innovation

Stryker’s “Big Idea Fair” is a platform for staff to try new things, spark collaboration and reframe their mindset about stale processes. Employees submit ideas that could help improve products, and a selection committee narrows down the submissions to six to eight teams who compete for cash prizes.

Stryker invites employees to gather in the cafeteria to listen to finalists pitch their ideas to leaders. Winners receive a $3,000 cash prize and support to move their big idea forward. Other prizes are awarded for the most creative ideas, the crowd favorite, etc. 

For ideas that don’t make the final round, Stryker holds “treehouse sessions” to encourage employees to continue to work on their ideas and connect with others who can help bring those ideas to life.

In a recent “Shark Tank”-like innovation challenge, a team of employees came up with the idea to encourage customers to send back their used pulse oximeters, a medical device that checks patients’ heart rates. The device is single-use and usually ends up in a landfill. Following this program, Stryker began reprocessing them for future use.

To date, this program has saved Stryker $340 million in supply costs and has diverted 13.2 million pounds of waste from landfills in 2018. All because they listened to their employees!

Awarding innovation

One business unit at Stryker shows how much they value employees’ impactful ideas through an “Innovation Star Award.” This award recognizes employees in the Neurovascular business for thinking outside of the box and delivering innovative solutions.

Awards are given out in a few different categories, such as visionary ideas that transformed the business, cross-functional innovations, ideas that enhanced customer experience, and an award for ideas that significantly reduced operating costs or generated revenues.

What does Stryker get out of listening to their peoples’ feedback? In an industry that’s struggling with sector-wide contraction, 95% of employees at Stryker say that customers would rate the services they deliver as “excellent.” And 95% say that when they look at what they accomplish, they feel a sense of pride.

“Imagine waking up every day knowing that your work matters, that it may help to save or improve the life of a neighbor or colleague or someone you care about,” one employee told us about Stryker. “Oh, and by the way, you get to pursue that noble mission, have fun, grow with a growing company, and win against your competitors... and do it with YOUR FRIENDS. That's Stryker in a nutshell.”

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Tabitha Wilhelmsen Russell