Frontline employees are the people who do the ongoing production work in an organization. While the range and skills of frontline employees vary widely, most of the entry-level jobs within the company fall into this category. That is not to say all jobs are entry-level. There are many senior production workers, especially among skilled fabricators and machine operators.
The work that frontline employees do is most commonly characterized by repetition versus being project-based. This steady flow of production work, while essential to the organization, does create a dilemma with regards to continuous improvement. Production workers, unless a conscious effort is made, often do not have time to try to make their processes better.
Companies with highly refined continuous improvement cultures, though, make a conscious effort to allocate at least a few hours a week for process improvement. Of course, this creates a math problem. If 10% of a person’s time is spent on continuous improvement, that means 10% less production work is being done. In the short term that shortage must be covered by overtime, temporary workers, or new hires. In the long term, though, that continuous improvement effort by frontline workers will free up more time than is invested in continuous improvement projects.
There are many reasons that frontline employees should be heavily involved in continuous improvement efforts. The first is sheer numbers. There are far more frontline employees than any other category of worker. While it is true that this group generally has less formal education than other groups, that is more commonly a function of choice and priorities than it is of capability. There is an immense amount of creativity and intelligence within this group that is frequently untapped.
In addition, frontline employees are the people that know a company’s core processes better than anyone. They are the ones doing the work every day. Giving them proper continuous improvement training and the time to put it to use pays off huge dividends as a company progresses on its Lean journey.