Solving problems makes work exciting for the whole team

Aug. 18, 2020
Once everyone’s mind was engaged and off of autopilot, the team started to get different results.

Have you ever driven your regular route to work and when you arrived, realized you don't remember the drive? You start to question things, like if you stopped at the stop sign. Your brain was on autopilot because you've driven it so many times.

How many jobs in your plants are the same way, where people are asked to come in every day and do the same job, and step over the same problems to the point where they can do it in their sleep? How do you think they feel about their job and the company they work for? Do they still see all of the problems around them or is their brain on autopilot?

Human beings don't thrive in that environment. I had one person on my team that was constantly complaining, and the perception between management and this employee wasn't very positive. Then things changed.

Things changed when the managers created a new environment which tapped into our employee's creativity. We asked each member of our team for their input, asking each to identify opportunities to improve, to identify and solve problems. People thrive when using their creativity because they're making a difference, which makes them feel valued. Once everyone’s mind was engaged and off of autopilot, the team started to get different results.

What changed? Our management style changed, and it sparked a transformation in our workforce. It's our job as managers to make sure everyone leaves with a sense of accomplishment every day. Once my colleagues and I adopted that theory, management became a lot easier. Instead of feeling like employees were working against us, we had to work harder to keep up with them. For the first time everyone on the team was moving in the same direction, with the current instead of against it.

During this same time our company was in a situation where our volumes were increasing, but our sales price was decreasing, so managers were told to increase volume without increasing headcount. I thought of how Mr. Takashi Harada, the Japanese production specialist who taught our company the Toyota Production System (see previous blog post), would often make the comment “the goal is not to do more preventative maintenance (PM)”. Initially this comment didn’t make much sense to me. I had always been taught that the more preventive work the better.

Then it finally clicked for me after visiting a Toyota plant in Japan and seeing examples of how they streamlined things like PMs, changeovers, etc. It reminded me of watching a pit crew in action. I couldn’t wait to implement and share this new idea with my team.

One of many examples that came from this situation: We had a machine PM activity that took over 30 minutes per week, and we had approximately 50 of these machines, so that's about 25 hours per week of PM time. When we asked our engineers and technicians to evaluate more efficient options, one of our maintenance techs came up with a machine design change that allowed that 30-minute PM per machine to be reduced to approximately 5 min, which was an over 80% improvement! Shortly after the change was implemented, this activity was added to the operator's weekly TPM activities.

This was the start of a snowball of efficiency improvements, and was the start of everything changing. People stepped up to the plate, and we shifted the tide from the “company vs. the people” to the people being the company.

As leaders, are you paying people for their hands? Or for their hearts and minds? It costs the company the same amount of dollars, but you get exponentially more value when you capture their hearts and minds. Engaging their passion will pay off.

Think of it this way. Working for your people is a lot easier and has a much higher return on investment. Many manufacturing leaders miss the mark on this. If you don't trust your people, it's because they don't trust you. Are you asking them to do a "dog job” or a “human job?”

About the Author: Bob Argyle
Bob Argyle is chief customer officer at Leading2Lean. He is a 30-year veteran of the manufacturing industry, and an expert in lean manufacturing, operations, maintenance, quality and engineering. Bob has developed a philosophy and core belief that winners in the new era of manufacturing will be the companies that combine the power of new technologies with the insight and creativity of the human mind. You can email Bob at [email protected].

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