Training Program, Workplace

Onboarding, first impressions and Lean

I thought about the use of lean in areas out of the manufacturing floor the other day when I was browsing Linkedin. I got across a post in which somebody was explaining all the goodies that a group of new employees received. The welcome pack included a company-branded backpack, coffee mug, drinking cup, and polos with the company logo! The cubicles had the basic office supplies and a laptop setup with a working email account. They also received their access credentials listed on a closed envelope. I was happy for them, but mostly I felt jealous.
Many companies fail miserably at onboarding,  I worked for one of them.  I had to go find a good chair, notepads, pens, a stapler, and other basic things.  I received my cell phone after two weeks, with no set-up for emails or use within the company’s private network.  I had to configure the phone myself.  Also, I had to ask around to make a list of the applications I need, request the access and then install them myself.  This reminds me that I also had to create a backup of my computer and installed the mirror image on a new one. The original computer I was given was more a paperweight than a laptop.  In case you wonder, yes the company had an IT department.
The first day on the job, there are a couple of basic things that should be ready for you. The example I mentioned at the beginning was very successful with that part.  It is a nice first impression, but that is not all that matters.
As per SHRM, new employee onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee with a company and its culture. It includes getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the team. From this definition, what I described is only part of the process.
The orientation introduces the company mission, vision, and values to the new employee. The orientation includes the company policies, regulatory paperwork, and benefits packet. The employees’ introduction to their department is through onboarding. This is when they get to know their job and their co-workers.  The supervisor should walk the employees through the area and introduce them to the team.  He/she has to make sure that the entire team understands the position of the new hire and how it relates to others.  Introduction to key stakeholders for their job and to support personnel is necessary.  An important part of onboarding is a meeting between employee and supervisor. The meeting is for setting expectations and establish job tasks and responsibilities.  This meeting is a good moment to decide on dates and times to have one on one meetings. Periodic meetings are critical to check on their progress, needs, and concerns.
At the end of my first week at the job on that company I mentioned, I had serious doubts about whether I will stay long.  The orientation was excellent, the onboarding wasn’t and for me, that was a bad sign. I am not alone, about 20% of employee turnover occurs in the first 45 days. Something may be wrong with the way we welcome new employees.
Lean seeks to create more value for the customer. For the onboarding process, the customer is a new employee. What is important for new employees? What do they need? What problems they have with the actual process?
Part of the problem with onboarding is that the process is unclear. A good tool to see the actual steps to complete the onboarding process is process mapping. It is a good tool to identify opportunities, what is missing and what need improvements. Use a Future State Map to visualize the process after improvements implementation.
Some tools that will help to close the gap between actual and future state rea the following. We can use 5 Why to find the root cause of the problems encountered by the new employees. Onboarding is a process shared by various departments. To distinguish the flow and responsibilities a swim lane diagram is a perfect tool. Countermeasures for those problems often need standard work and visual management. When parts of the process have delays waiting, cross-training comes handy. Training on the work and cross-training will develop a flexible workforce.
New employees should feel from the first day that they are welcome. The backpack, polos, and others are a nice first impression, but it is more important to create a good onboarding process.  Lean will help to create a customer-oriented efficient process with minimal waste.
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.
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, with six to eight people, leave after a while and then come back again.  After an hour another truck comes to drop off the post that was laying on the dirt for about one hour.  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.  The skid loader has also capabilities to carry the pole and lift it 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 anxious.  A crew was clearing the area, cutting branches and trimming bushes. Right behind them, five or six guys were looking.  After the cleaning crew finished, nobody was doing anything productive. They were 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. They seemed confused, there was some discussion on what they need and how to put them together. 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 that time watching the others. He never tried 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.  One technique is to convert the setup to be external. For example, to prepare the parts and have the truck ready while the cleaning crew was working. Another way is simplifying internal the setup. For example, eliminating the need for tools by replacing bolts with knobs and levers. Another way to simplify is to create a color code or any other visual aid to make it easier looking for parts. Finally, another technique is to cut non-essential operations.
A good leader is curious about ways to improve the operation of engaging the team on the continuous improvement process. They walk the team through a series of whys to identify the root cause of the downtime and figure out solutions.  Here are examples of possible solutions.  After the site assessment, the first crew clean the area while the second crew search for parts and complete the setup.  The skid-steer and the post will arrive right after the third crew. This group will get the truck off the trailer, aligning it to the post. They will also prepare the post for loading and will move it closer to the location.  The team can create standardize work to ensure the same process happens each time. Team participation is critical for the success of the improvement exercise.
Lean manufacturing tools are not for the manufacturing floor only. Lean is for any industry, including service.  Sometimes waste reduction is common sense. For example the reduction of walking time, 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


Every day we hear or read about teamwork and its importance for business. We talk about it in conversations, blogs, and presentations. We are trained 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. Teamwork is also important for individuals that desire to advance their careers. And this importance is even more critical if the person wants to have a leadership role.

Some time ago I was working with the management group to put together the list of people for the first lean manufacturing training. This will be the team that will work on the lean manufacturing implementation. The general manager mentioned one name that caused a lot of hesitation. 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. He had more process experience and knowledge than most people. John is very reliable, he will come to work every day on time and will finish his projects successfully. He is also the guy that would 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. The only thing that has been on the way for a promotion for years is his lack of teamwork. 

Why teamwork is so important? Like children with their parents, team members learn from what they see from their leader. If the leader practice teamwork, the team will be driven to share the same behavior. 

Team member’s interact more and better when they understand the relationship between roles. Understanding how their responsibilities interact with other members’ responsibilities facilitates teamwork. Knowing their impact on the output helps team members to understand and share vision and goals. Now, is not the individual contribution but the synergy created by mutual support.

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

Leadership positions are out of the future for people like John. Not being able to be examples of teamwork or drive teamwork is the roadblock for promotion. 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. 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 a 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.

Continuous Improvement, Workplace

Everything will be ok

As leaders, there are countless ways we influence our teams. As human beings, there are countless ways we can influence our teams. Leadership is a key element in continuous improvement initiatives. Those who can manage their emotions are likely to be more engaged in their work.

Our mood is different every day; and affects our energy level, positivism, and focus. As leaders, we cannot let our emotions control our actions. The workplace is full of opportunities to derail our continuous improvement efforts. Some of them are different levels of engagement, not believers, management lack of support and toxic work environment. How we manage those challenges will determine the success of our efforts. The way we manage our emotions is even more important.

People are watching our reaction every time something arise. Positive reactions will influence positive behavior in our team. The ability to react positively is a learned behavior, requires practice. The more we learn how to identify and understand our emotions the more we learn about how those emotions influence our behavior. The goal is to learn how we can control and use those emotions in our favor. Those who understand their emotions can capitalize on them to overcome obstacles. Also, is a way to keep a good mood and model positive behaviors.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. EI is a very important trait for leadership success. People with a high degree of EI know what they are feeling, what it means, and how can affect other people. Every day will come with different challenges, sometimes the same over and over. Emotional intelligence is what helps us to work with them. Keeping your cool when things go different from expected is not an easy task. If you can manage to do it, your team will learn how to do it too. A good leader is also honest, there are times on which expecting a good outcome is impossible. When we hit those, it is ok to accept it, regroup, make a new plan and keep going.

How to keep yourself calm in difficult situations is a huge challenge. In my humble opinion (by no means an expert opinion) is that everything comes down to how well you know yourself. The critical step is to know your emotions, identify how you feel and learn how to control your feelings. When I recognize that I need time to control myself, I take a walk. Walking through the plant, talking with people almost always make me feel better. It helps me to calm down and gain a different perspective. Sometimes I even talk about the situation with them. More often than not, the conclusion is that everything will be alright. Train the mind to use positive words and stay clear from negative ones. This simple trick is a way to keep you and your team moving in the right direction.