Motivation, Training Program

How we trained our employees for new jobs?

Years ago I was working with inevitable changes in our manpower.  After a revision in our business plan, the entire operation was going to change requiring less manpower.  A very generous retirement plan took care of most of the extra employees under the new operation scheme.  The challenge for me was to choose what job the remaining group would have.  After a life doing a manual job that will no longer exist, these people (90% of them women) whose age was between 50 and 60 years will have to learn to do something else.

All the available jobs required to operate a machine that runs at speeds between 150 to 400 units per minute.  It was not only to feed the machine but also to be able to control the settings to comply with quality requirements, clean the machine and assist maintenance with troubleshooting and minor adjustments.

Most of these ladies were really afraid about what would be their new job.  Assigning jobs and provide appropriate training was a critical task which required to show respect towards these persons.  I interview every one of them to hear their concerns, fears, and expectations regarding their new jobs.  The real intention of these interviews was to have a one to one meeting to clarify doubts, ask if they had any preference regarding what machine they would like to work with and assure them that we will train and support them every step of the way. With the information gathered during the interviews, their training records verification and skills assessment, the supervisors that work with them before and their new supervisors help me to choose the machine they would be assigned to.

We created visual work instructions for every task and every machine, design theoretical and hands-on training, and use all these material to teach them.  We also used a buddy system to ensure that every new operator was with a more experienced operator 100% of the time during at least one week.  The shift supervisors help me to assess their job and we scheduled some additional to some individuals based on the results.

The journey was stressful at times, difficult at others and challenging all the time but in the end it worth it.  This group of operators learns at their own pace, they grew up to be an excellent group and some of them even become trainers for newcomers.  Their smiles and how good they feel about themselves for all their accomplishments during that time it is forever one of my personal favorite stories.


Gemba Management

Respect the People

One of the pillars of the Toyota Production System is respect for the people.  When I first read about this something in my brain did click.  I grew up in a traditional family surrounded by my grandparents, lots of aunts and uncles and of course my siblings and cousins.  The one thing that we learned was respect.  It was impossible to ignore the respect daily lessons, the message was constant, loud and clear.  Starting with respect to our parents and another family, following with respect to all grown-ups especially older people.  Soon we learn that respect was something to give, not to demand.  If you don’t respect people, people will not respect you.

Respect is critical for any kind of relationship, without it the communication fails.  Without effective communication, nothing will happen.  Respect for people in an organization is something we will see in different ways and every one of them are important.

Once I hired an incredible engineer with lots of experience working with our types of machines, excellent credentials, and his technical knowledge was right on.  Pretty soon after he started, it was pretty clear what his weak point was.  His people skills were bad, the team immediately build a huge wall the size of the China Wall between them and the engineer.  He yelled instructions around assuming everybody knew how to do things his way.  When he came back to see things were different to what he asked he yelled again demanding reasons that he won’t listen.  A couple of times he openly talked to people referring to his team as the worst mechanics he ever has seen.

Of course, this was a perfect example of what not to do.  The picture below shows some other examples:



Continuous Improvement, Kaizen, Motivation

Are you tired of trying?

One of the biggest challenges we have is our employees turn over rate.  With a very consistent 10% to 11% percent rate, we need to get back to the basic training all the time.  Almost every day when we visit the gemba we found somebody new that is not following standards or is creating and sending to the next station bad products.   Obviously is lack of training and follow-up from supervisors.

Every year when we revise our achievements of the previous one and decide which will be the goals we hesitate on what percentage of improvement would be achievable yet not too easy.  What makes us hesitate?  The employees turn over rate is the reason.  With new people at gemba every week our supervisors have their hands full just doing basic training.  Most of the available time for training is used for regulatory and basic training for the newcomers.  What about our continuous improvement projects?  What happened with the kaizen?

We need to keep those things going at the same time, all the time.  If we don’t kaizen every day, everywhere we are not living the continuous improvement spirit!  Two steps forward and one step back is ok, inertia; not moving at all is not ok.  We can never be too tired to try, we can never be too tired to kaizen.

We all live great moments during our Lean Journeys where almost everything looks so perfect!  People participate, try to achieve!  Most of what we tried works!  Is like being at the top of the world!  All of us like being there, all of us like to have new reasons for celebration.  But those moments do not last forever, there are others when the harder we try, the harder we fall.  Is during those moments that we feel tired of trying, exhausted.

Is during those times of drought when we need to prove yourself that we are good leaders.  Is during those moments that we need to motivate yourself and our people to continue our ride.  The mere act of trying, of not let yourself feel defeated, the desire to go back to the top of the world, that is the motivation.  That motivation resides within us, waiting for us ready to fuel our efforts to overcome the current challenge.  We are student-teachers, we need to learn how to refuel our motivation and not let the lighthouse beam out of our sight to teach others how to do it. I like to lead by example, when people recognize you as a leader they follow your example.  If you show everybody that you are tired, everybody will give up as well and the Lean Journey will be doom.  Tired?  Take a small rest and go back to the battle!  Stagnation or inertia are no options.

Gemba Management, Lean Trainings

Are you a good Lean coach?

On these days I read on the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) page that a helpful coach is a humble coach.  The LEI faculty member and author David Verbie, in one of their most popular videos, explains why with examples of how to use “humble inquiry.”  You can have all the knowledge of the world but if you are not humble when you ask and show with actions respect for the people; the message will not get through.   This reading makes me remember about this anecdote.

We were taking our first baby steps with Lean when this new guy joins the company to work as director of the finance department.  His first week, we did a physical inventory and he was right there with his team observing how the employees performed the inventory.  At first, I thought, good! he went to gemba to see!  Then I  heard comments from the employees regarding how he was asking them a lot of whys and hows on a way that they felt either intimidated or that he was questioning their skills or their desire to do a good job.  I was very upset, don’t ever go to the work area and make questions on a way that could offend the employees.

About a week after the inventory, this person was ready to propose changes to the inventory procedure.  He was talking about having a meeting with the employees but before it happens the accounting manager gave us a heads up and we ask for a meeting with the managers first.  We could not afford the risk to have this guy yelling and demeaning our employees anymore, we need to check on him.  I went to the meeting positive, thinking that probably everything was just a misunderstanding.

The meeting started and after the introduction, the new director spend thirty minutes talking about himself!  I thought that it was ok, he just wanted us to know about him.  Once again, I was wrong!  When the inventory stock supervisor started to present the results of the inventory he was interrupting all the time to talk about his observations.  Every time he did it, he questioned our procedures, supervisory methods, and our performance indicators.  The problem was the way he questioned everything, I felt he was attacking us.  After all the hard work to create an improvement culture, all the training hours and everything we have done to gain our employees’ trust and this guy comes with this attitude!  He started to ask me about our kaizen events and if I knew some concepts like OEE, kanban, and others.  He was arrogant, believing he was a sensei but he was wrong!  No doubt he knew, but none of us never listened to one word of what he said from the minute he started his attacks.

During my Lean journey, this is the only person that I found with that attitude so far.  As managers and lean practitioners, we need to coach or mentor our people.  We need to ask why every day but we shall use the humble inquiry.  I believed so much on this philosophy that I made it part of my life; when I read the book Lean Production Simplified by Pascal Dennis I learned why.  Towards the end of the book, the author wrote: “When a set of methods or techniques connects to a person’s whole being, it becomes a door path.  Therefore, we must approach it with the proper spirit: humility, life long learning and respect for people“.