Case Study: Tapping into employee knowledge as the engine for growth

Steel can manufacturing may be a mature industry, but the folks at

Brasilata don’t see it that way. The Brazilian company has figured out how to tap into employee knowledge and motivation to fuel its extraordinary productivity and innovation. It has won top industry and supplier awards almost every year, including the coveted Sherwin-Williams “Best Packaging Supplier” award. It has also been ranked among the 20 most innovative companies in Brazil, as well as one of the best places to work in that country.

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Innovation driving change

At the heart of Brasilata’s business model is the Simplification Project (Projeto Simplificação), which encourages all 900 employees across the company’s four production facilities to think up as many suggestions as possible. “The Simplification Project is like panning for ideas (incremental innovations), thereby stimulating the internal innovative environment and entrepreneurial spirit,” explains Brasilata’s CEO Antonio Carlos Álvares Teixeira, who is also a business professor.

Ideas are so important that Brasilata employees are called “inventors,” and everyone signs an “innovation contract” that reinforces their commitment to continuous improvement. After a slow start two decades ago (with only one idea per person each year), the company now receives more than 200,000 ideas each year—an average of more than 220 ideas per employee. Brasilata holds a party every six months, at which all employees celebrate teams and individuals with the best ideas. Employees are also rewarded with bonuses representing 15 percent of net annual profits.

Some employee suggestions have sown the seeds of innovative products, such as an award-winning paint can that withstands heavy impact when dropped. Other ideas have dramatically improved productivity. Some changes have made jobs redundant, but employees aren’t worried. Brasilata has been able to maintain a no- layoff policy even during the worst downturns.

Brasilata’s success is also built on teamwork. The company compares its workforce with a soccer team, in which winning goals depends on everyone. “Teamwork is one of the leading forces of the company,” says the company’s website. The company also emphasizes employee initiative and open communication. “In our opinion, innovative action is stimulated by a corporate environment where the communications channels are always open, new ideas are respected and errors tolerated,”

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