Continuous Improvement, Workplace

Do your work environment and company culture a match?

Recently I have a conversation with a former colleague regarding how well he fits into the culture of his current company, he loves his job. Unfortunately, that is not true for many people, they are not happy at work. The Gallup organization has reported that nearly 70% of employees are actively disengaged. Seventy percent of employees drag themselves to work every day, they work for the weekend and the check of course.
Have you heard the saying:  “People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses”.  I have seen this way too many times, managers and supervisors managing people just like commodities, not caring about human beings, only about the numbers.  This can happen regardless of the company culture.
Even if the company presented itself as people-centric if the leader’s behavior does not support the company values the employees will not feel the love. The company culture becomes then, a nice statement hanging on the wall. Top leaders behavior have to match company values, they have to show medium and entry-level leaders how is done. A very important part of the company culture is the work environment. For me, the work environment, how the employees are treated is the real culture. Let me present you, three examples.
On a meeting, the HR manager is all smiles and bubbly while explaining the Wellness Plan and activities for the year, a wonderful way to show how much the company cares about the employee’s health. Then, how is it possible that there are so many people overweight and with critical health conditions? If people do not have time to participate because they cannot refuse to work overtime, then we are not caring about their wellness.
We have an employee appreciation day, we want all employees to participate and bring their family because family is the most important thing but we have production that day. We cannot stop for a day, even not for a shift so that our people can enjoy and really feels how much we appreciate their job and sacrifices.
You cannot say that you value your employees when you allow managers to get away with making their employees miserable just because they hit their numbers.  If you value your employees, show respect and compassion, become a teacher for your team, develop them, do whatever is at your reach to improve their lives.  Doing anything else would be sending a message about what is important to you.
Now, what is the real culture? The nice words on the company values statement or the reality of how employees are treated day in and day out? I vote for the latter, unfortunately, that is what happens in many places, that is why there are so many bad bosses and that is why people are disengaged. Until we change these behaviors, there is no environment for a real lean manufacturing culture.
Training Program

Servant Leadership and Accountability

Reading on the internet I came across this proud CEO who posted that servant leadership is core to his company culture.  I was extremely excited to keep reading and maybe learn a thing or two about servant leadership but I was disappointed when he continued to explain that extreme accountability is key for success.  What does accountability have to do with servant leadership?

Google search says that accountability “refers to an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions”.   Every role we have in our life comes with responsibilities, when we accept the role, we also accept the responsibilities coming with it. Most of the time accountability is understood as meeting the goals, get the work done efficiently and effectively but when you are a leader there is more to it.

Traditional leadership focuses on the success of the organization but servant leadership focus is much broader.  Efficient and effective operations with an excellent record of customer satisfaction are not possible unless we take care of the people.  Servant leaders understand that they are accountable for their actions, including their own development and the development of their people.  Creating an environment where people flourish is key.  Here are two examples, Toyota and Barry Wehmiller.

Toyota leaders must take responsibility for driving Toyota towards perfection.  They believe their success is the result of developing everyone and believing that employees are the most precious asset.  Not everybody has the talent, skills or desire to become a manager but certainly, everybody has the right to have a fair shot at it if they want to.  With its development program, Toyota does that.  Leaders enable subordinates to be successful in improving everything by learning and practicing the Toyota core values: respect, teamwork, a spirit of challenge, kaizen mind and, go and see to deeply understand.  All these are opportunities for growth, in and out of the workplace.

Barry Wehmiller measures success by the way they touch people’s lives.  Their business model fosters personal growth by creating an environment that is based on trust, allows for teams and individuals to have a meaningful role, challenge them, inspires a sense of pride, liberates everyone to realize “true success” and celebrates the best in each individual.

Servant leadership is not just about employee appreciation lunches, summer picnics, Christmas parties, a wide range of training or no reserved parking spaces for managers.  We need to start investing in the lives of our employees, create a positive impact.  If we really care, we have to walk the talk, just training is not enough.

Lean Tools, Workplace

Reducing setup time to improve the operation

Today a team from the energy company was working on replacing one electrical post.   The work started with two guys and a truck.  Then a couple of trucks more arrived, six to eight people arrive, leave after a while and then come back again.  After an hour another truck comes to drop off the post that was for about one hour laying on the dirt.  The post they planned to replace was in my neighbor’s back yard. I was wondering how they were going to dig in the hole and lift the pole when a fifth truck arrived hauling a funny little truck.

It was a skid-steer loader equipped with a hole digger auger.  I learned that the skid loader has also capabilities to carry the pole and put it up and they drive it using a wired remote control.  All the walking around had me nervous but at this point, I was starting to feel really anxious.  A crew was clearing the area, cutting branches and trimming bushes while five or six guys were just looking.  When the cleaning crew finished nobody was doing anything productive, just walking up and down the street until the little truck arrived.  Then a couple of them started to take parts out of one of the trucks and for a while, there was so much confusion as to what they needed and how to put together some of those parts that almost an hour went by before they decided that everything was ready to start.

To start moving the little truck out of the trailer, that is.  The skid-steer driver was all the time watching the others but never try to get it off the trailer and have it ready to load the post.  Nobody thought about getting the parts ready while the cleaning crew was working.

One of the most used lean manufacturing tools is Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) or quick change over.  It is used to reduce the setup or change over time.  The goal is to reduce this time to ten minutes or less.  Some of the techniques used are: convert setup steps to be external (performed while the process is running, simplify internal setup (e.g. eliminating the need of tools by replacing bolts with knobs and levers) and, eliminate non-essential operations.

A good leader is curious about ways to improve the operation and engage the team on the continuous improvement process walking them through a series of whys to identify the root cause of the downtime for this process and then figure out solutions.  Here are examples of possible solutions.  After the site assessment, the first crew will start cleaning the area while the second crew starts searching for parts and completing their setup.  Plan the skid-steer delivery to be right after the post, upon receiving the third crew get it off the trailer and align it to the post to further prepare it for loading and move it to location.  To ensure the same process happen each time, the team can create standardized work instructions.  Team participation is critical for the success of the improvement exercise.

Lean manufacturing tools are not just for the manufacturing floor, they can be applied to any industry.  Some of them are just common sense, like reducing all the time wasted walking, waiting for equipment or parts or looking for them.  Do not be content with the status quo, always look for ways to improve.


Why teamwork is important for your career?

“A major reason capable people fail to advance is that they don’t work well with their colleagues.” – Lee Iacocca


The word teamwork and its importance for business are included every day in many conversations and other types of communication like blogs and presentations.  We also receive training about it and/or participate in team building activities very often.  There is so much noise about it that some people may think it is overrated.  Well, it is not.

Most people understand why teamwork is important for companies, for the very same reasons it is important for individuals that desire to advance on their careers.  And this importance is even more critical if the person want to have a leadership role.

Some time ago while working with the management group to decide who would be part of the team that will work on the initial lean manufacturing implementation activities there was a lot of back and forth when the general manager mentioned one name.  The reason for the discussion was that this person was notorious for his lack of teamwork.  John (not his real name), worked for the company for over twenty years, probably anybody had more experience and knowledge than him.  He is very reliable, John will come to work every day on time, will finish his projects successfully and he volunteers for those tasks that nobody else wants.  All these things make him a very good candidate for a supervisor position, even a future manager but, his lack of teamwork has been on the way for a promotion for years.

Why teamwork is so important?  When team members are led by an individual that understand and practice teamwork they will be driven to share the same behavior.  Communication of each member responsibilities, how they interact with other members responsibilities and their impact on the output help to understand and share the vision and goals.  Now, is not the individual contribution but the synergy created by mutual support.

Collaboration within a group can help solve difficult problems or create innovative ways to do things. Brainstorming is a good opportunity for the team to exchange ideas and come up with creative ways of doing things. By working together, teams can find the solutions that work best.  By finding those incredible solutions, team members will feel a greater sense of accomplishment;  also cooperation, trust, and respect are built one step at the time.

If John and others like him cannot be examples of teamwork and more importantly cannot drive the team to work as a team, then leadership positions are out of their future.  But not everything is lost, it takes time but it is possible to learn how to communicate effectively and be a part of the team.  The following are some important characteristics of a good team member:

  • Respect your coworkers, listen to their words, practice tolerance when you don’t agree with their point of view.  Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.
  • Be honest and fair.  Explain your point of view, use facts, keep the discussion professional but real. Make sure what you say and what you do are giving the same message. In other words, keep your verbal and nonverbal language on the same page. This limits confusion.
  • Focus on the behavior or problem, not on the person. People become defensive when criticized personally. Keep the discussion focused on the task and the issues.
  • Shares the Load. A good team member does his or her fair share of the work. Be reliable, when you say you are going to do something, do it!  There is a sense of equity and fairness in the good team member, this is important for team members’ collective motivation.
  • Validate others’ contributions. Compliment team members on good ideas and suggestions. This makes them feel a part of the team and encourages future participation.

The list above is not a magical solution to be a better team member.  You need to know what you lack and consciously work to improve it.  It is about been aware of your weaknesses and practice, practice, practice.