Three keys to sustainable 5S

‘Sustain’ (Shitsuke), the last of the 5S’ of this well-known Japanese continuous improvement tool, is often regarded as the toughest ‘S’ to implement. But it doesn’t need to be. The trick is to let the system work for you.

 

There are three keys to successfully sustaining 5S: commitment, top management support, and performance measurement.

1. Commitment

The first key is to commit to all five S's. 5S must have the backing and commitment of all managers. It must be seen as the new way of working and not just as a temporary notion. It must form an integral part of a holistic drive to improve the organization’s competitiveness. Every effort must be made to sustain the initial improvements and to avoid a slipping of standards. The team leaders and first-line managers have a major role to play to institutionalize 5S so that it becomes a new way of life.

2. Top management support

Commitment is not possible without top management's visible support for the program. Senior management needs to have a clear understanding of the benefits of 5S and align it to the business strategy. Furthermore, senior management must be seen to be totally committed to 5S implementation or it will end up as just another nice idea. All employees must believe that the organization is committed to the program. One way for top management to get involved on a continuing basis is to conduct quarterly 5S visits to each work area to inspect 5S conditions, and offer advice and support to employees. Another effective method for demonstrating top management support is to mandate and participate in the visible promotion of 5S.

Some ways to do this include the following:

  • Slogans — a slogan serves as an excellent way of building team spirit and uniting people to reach a common goal or target
  • 5S posters — a competition for the best poster of the month can serve to remind everybody of good 5S; the posters can be used during training or as visual displays
  • 5S success stories — sharing success stories with others helps to boost morale; when they are accompanied by 'before' and 'after' photographs, they can serve as examples and as training material
  • Visits by VIPs — factory tours by VIPs such as the group chief executive officer or technical director, is a good way to motivate and recognize good 5S efforts
  • 5S newsletters — the company can introduce a quarterly 5S newsletter to showcase some good 5S examples, give recognition to teams and provide 5S tips and stories from outside the organization

3. Performance measurement and recognition

The third key is to measure 5S performance in each work area and set up a system to reward teams that achieve 5S success. Organizations with successful 5S programs measure their performance with regular audits using checklists and score sheets. Audit results are posted in public areas, which create an atmosphere of friendly competition that will help instill pride in the teams. Such audits and high-profile visits are used to sustain the level of 5S and encourage workers to improve continuously. This measurement could also be combined with a reward system. Transforming a company into a true 'learning organization' where continuous improvement has become a way of life, and where best practices are embraced by everyone, requires strong leadership. This leadership entails aspects such as:

  • an inspirational vision of a world class organization
  • support in terms of time and resources
  • visible personal involvement
  • constant communication and promotion of 5S
  • honest recognition of good performance

The last ‘S’ in 5S aims to sustain the previous efforts by establishing a culture of discipline and continuous improvement, where people are doing the right things as a matter of course. And it is through sustaining activities that the practice of 5S is refined. Management plays an important part in this step through its ongoing efforts to support, promote, encourage and recognize the 5S efforts in the workplace. The end result is not only an improvement in the sustainability of 5S but, more importantly, it is an improvement in safety, morale and productivity.