Lean Culture Helped These Companies become Best Places to Work

What do the best places to work have in common? Five companies recognized as being among the best employers in Iowa credit their adoption of Lean with helping them create a culture where workers simply love to work.

The Iowa Lean Consortium (ILC) gathered the five companies together for an online event earlier this year. Representatives from all five – Tri-City Electric in Davenport, Cambridge Investment Research in Fairfield, Renewable Energy Group in Ames, Grinnell Mutual in Grinnell, and West Des Moines-based American Equity – all noted the culture change that occurred after continuous improvement practices started to take hold.

All five companies were named by the Des Moines Register as Top Work Places for 2020.

“They’ve all utilized Lean methods to empower employees to solve problems,” said ILC Director Tracy Schuster. “When employees feel empowered, they can see that their contribution makes a direct impact on the mission of the organization.”

Brian Shadle, manager of IT projects and quality assurance at Renewable Energy Group, said his organization got started in Lean to make employees “better trained and more engaged.” And it worked.

“That was one spark I really saw in some of these people, that they had the power to make changes,” Shadle said. “They had the power to do higher-value activities, which made them more valuable (because) eventually you get paid more to do that.”

Dave Hammond, vice president of process improvement at American Equity, said his company’s culture has gotten “radically different for the better” over the last few years as workers noticed that their ideas for improving the company were being taken seriously.

“We have a lot of longtime employees, and I’ve been really almost dumbfounded by the level of resistance that I expected from them that I have not gotten,” Hammond said. “Our culture that we’re trying to get to is ‘Your ideas are welcome, and we’re trying to do them.’

“People on the front lines are starting to see that connection.”

Company representatives stressed that it takes time to build the right environment and that organizations must make sure they communicate with employees. But the resulting culture improvements are worth the extra steps.

“Be patient and trust the process,” Amanda Reineke, vice president of accounting and continuous improvement at Cambridge Investment Research. “There were times that we really needed to slow down to speed up. You need to be strategic and step through and do things right instead of trying to do everything at once.”

For more information, contact Tracy Schuster at tschust@iastate.edu or 515-715-0164.