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Well, it’s September of 2010 and we are finally hearing positives in regards to manufacturing and the economy turning around. This is great news especially here in Michigan where the unemployment continues to be a major issue. As I watch the news and read the papers it makes me wonder how companies are going to react to business picking up. Are the wounds going to heal quickly and have them spending capital at ten year highs or are they going to remember what kept them in business through this terrible time and continue to look for innovative ways to solve their problems?
As this economy turns around, we on the front lines of manufacturing have a large responsibility to our companies and our teams. We need to “K.I.S.S.” them. That is, we need to Keep It Simple Stupid. I have always loved that acronym and I think it is more important today than ever. The urge is going to be to back off and open up the purse strings but that is the worse thing we could do. There are two different areas I want to talk about: Employee Rewards and Continuous Improvement.
Anyone that knows me knows that I can throw one of the best pot-lucks or cook outs for a team of employees that anyone could dream of. I often joked that I was our companies catering service’s number one customer! That was until the recession hit. We had to become creative on our team celebrations because every penny counted. As the days went by it was tough to justify $200 for a cook out when we could use that to purchase something the department really needed. The other issue that comes into play is when a “reward” becomes an expectation. When you give a “treat” too much it often becomes an expectation and therefore loses its effectiveness of motivating.
A first hand experience of this has to do with something as simple as doughnuts. We regularly would buy doughnuts for our team members if we had to work a Saturday as a thank you for working on the weekend. Keep in mind, they were already receiving overtime for those hours but it was a way for management to show appreciation for the team members working long hours. Unfortunately, we worked a lot of Saturdays and the employees started expecting them to be there every Saturday we worked. As the economy tanked and the company started looking for ways to cut costs, we got to the point that we couldn’t order doughnuts anymore and the backlash from the employees was incredible.
I specifically remember team members yelling at me because they counted on having doughnuts on their first break and that I had messed up their entire day. The complaining was so much that some Supervisors went out and bought doughnuts out of their own pocket, (remember they weren’t even being paid for being there on Saturday), but this just led to other department Supervisors getting upset because their team members wanted to know why some got doughnuts and some didn’t. I know this sounds ridiculous but it is the God’s honest truth. Finally, doughnuts just disappeared from our culture but it took weeks before the complaining and negative attitudes to disappear with them.
As the economy picks up, overtime will become very common in many shops. This goes without saying because companies will want to work OT rather than bring in new hires until they are sure that business has stabilized. It will be so tempting to “order the doughnuts” because our teams will be working long hours but should we? We have to be careful because we do not want to set a precedent that we don’t want to follow during all economies. So how do we determine how to reward employees? I hope the following will help.
1. Make sure the reward is for something very specific. Make sure you are rewarding a goal that is in the best interest of the department and the company.
2. Make sure that the employee has to go above and beyond to accomplish the goal. Set it for something that they wouldn’t normally do as a requirement of their job. Showing up to work on a Saturday is a normal expectation of any company when business requires it. That is why companies pay overtime to the hourly rank and file.
3. Make sure that the reward meets the accomplishment. Don’t go too cheap but on the other hand don’t go crazy for a minimal achievement. If nothing else, make sure the accomplishments savings for the company covers the cost of the reward. I know that sounds basic, but you would be surprised at some of the things I have seen employees given $50 gift cards for.
4. Personal thanks and gestures can sometimes go further than a trinket. Something as little as a post-it note with a word of personal thanks from a supervisor can really go a long ways with a team member. I have often seen these posted on an employees work station or locker as a badge of honor.
Finally, look for innovative ways to reward your employees. A personal favorite of mine has always been a good old fashion pot luck. I have become a master at feeding 45 people for about $25. It’s simple, buy $25 worth of hot dogs and buns and ask each team member to bring something in for the lunch. This has not only been an effective way for rewarding the team members it also builds team unity and brings diversity into the group. Living in West Michigan with a very diverse workforce, it is really neat to try some of the dishes that are brought in and the conversations that come with them.
After spending the last five years with what seems no capital to spend on improvements, it is very easy to want to get into impulsive shopping modes now that there appears to be capital available. What we need to do is remember what we have all just experienced and continue to look for innovative solutions for the problems that we uncover. This is where the K.I.S.S. theory is most important and will help you meet those pesky KPI’s that your bosses are worried about. Dust out those binders that you have kept all your PDCA’s in the last few years and look at the innovation you have used during this last recession. Challenge yourself to continue to keep your improvements minimal in cost.
One of my favorite examples of this netted us over $300 in savings on an improvement. We had a workstation that was required to remove a label from a printer, peel the back of the label and apply it to the product. The problem was that the backing paper never seemed to make it into the trash can at the feet of the team member as it was light and would always seem to miss. This lead to a messy work station with numerous safety issues since people had to crawl under the conveyor to pick them up at the end of the day. Our first thought was to buy a little machine that would peel the back off the label and roll it up. Unfortunately, it was extremely expensive. That’s when innovation came in.
During a recent plant tour, we saw PVC piping being utilized to move stuff away from an assembly line. BINGO! We purchased a $10 piece of PVC pipe and placed it in front of the operator to put the backer in. The paper would then slide down the tube and into a trash can. It kept the papers off the floor and made clean up much easier. Yes, I have to admit that we stole the idea from a sister plant but why reinvent the wheel when your on the same team? In fact, we took the same idea throughout the plant for numerous things other than labels.
As we come out of this terrible recession, remember where we have been and how we have survived it. For those companies that have weathered the storm, it was done by incredible innovation by the people on the front lines. Don’t let that innovation disappear simply because business seems to be picking up. Among the many roles that a supervisor holds is that of an innovator. Your team members will be watching your every step and you will get a great opportunity to lead by example these next few years.