Sometimes the difference between a strong leader and a weak leader can be summed up in one word…EMPOWERMENT.

The level of decision making ability your organization and its leaders are willing to give front line employees has a direct impact on the success of your business.

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Toyota recognized the value of empowerment decades ago and created a quality process known as the Andon Cord which has helped it not only become a quality leader, but also one of the most successful automobile manufacturing companies in the world.

The Andon Cord is an overhead line installed on Toyota’s assembly lines to empower any employee to stop the process immediately if they see something that needs to be corrected.

When the cord is pulled, a light is activated on an overhead signboard which identifies the area or specific workstation that has the problem. A team leader responds immediately, and that leader’s job is either to fix the problem (if he or she is able) or shut down the line until someone else can fix it.

If you think about it, there’s a lot at stake for Toyota, which manufactures thousands of cars every day. For every minute Toyota’s assembly line is down, the company is losing money.

Yet…it continues empowering front line employees to stop the line. AND…the leaders are trained to respond in a positive way.  They don’t yell at the employee for stopping production, nor do they start the line again before inquiring about what the problem is.

In this video, the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Kentucky calls it reinforcing the behavior that is critical to building a quality product.

“If you’re going to empower people, you have to be strong enough and committed enough to follow your rules,” he says.

At Toyota, those rules are simple:

  • Team members in the production process are the cornerstone of Toyota’s quality control system.
  • All team members are viewed as experts in their fields and are permitted to stop the production line if they spot something that they perceive to be a threat to vehicle quality.
  • Team members have an active role in quality control and strive for constant improvement. Their ideas matter in the production process.

Incidentally, Toyota was the number one retail manufacturer in July 2014. It’s not just hype.

In fact, the Andon Cord is such an integral part of the company, that as Toyota begins reducing overhead clutter in its factories, it is updating the cord with a button so it is easier for people to reach and doesn’t get in the way of a person’s job process.

Does your credit union have its own version of the Andon Cord or button… a place where any employee can STOP THE PROCESS if it needs to be stopped, to ensure that you are delivering on the service promise and/or that you are doing what is required to pursue and achieve your strategic vision?

If you don’t, you should!

The benefits are obvious… increased employee engagement, better results, lower costs, fewer missteps, quicker learning, development of leadership capacity of the team, empowerment, and so forth.

The cost of not doing it isn’t always obvious at first, but eventually it surfaces in the form of cumbersome processes that require too many steps for employees or members, products that don’t deliver on your credit union’s value proposition, employees who are aggravated that their feedback (which will make a big difference to the organization) doesn’t matter to anyone, and mistakes that cost you time, money and members (not to mention your credit union’s reputation).

Action Advice: EMPOWER your front line staff to make decisions that benefit the members and your organization. Give them permission to pull the cord, press the button or take whatever action you deem appropriate to stop the process and fix it before the problem gets to your members.