Where Did This Year Go?

I was finally able to take a couple days off for the holiday this weekend.  As part of my normal routine I took advantage of the time to go online and catch up with all of my social networking sites … Continue reading

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Does A Supervisor Really Matter?

BlackBerry 8800 (Cingular Version)

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Today was very interesting.  I was out to lunch with a previous employee of mine when my BlackBerry started to go nuts.  Being that I hadn’t seen this person in a while I simply ignored the incoming calls and figured I would get my voice mails later.  I soon realized that all these calls were coming from people I had worked with at my last job and thought it was weird but put it out of mind.  We wrapped up our lunch and went on our way with me totally forgetting about all the messages on my phone.

About 20 minutes after lunch I received a call from the person I had been dining with.  They asked, “Are you ok? What happened?”  I was confused and asked what they were talking about.  They stated that they had received a text from someone that I had a heart attack and was in the hospital.  They were confused when they got the text because they had just been with me.  All of a sudden it hit me that I had a lot of messages on my phone and put 2 plus 2 together.  Some how someone at my old shop had heard I had a heart attack and the word was spreading fast.

I got hold of one of the folks that had called and you could hear the concern in their voice when they answered.  I assured them that I was fine and didn’t know how the information got out but thanked them for their concern.  After a couple more phone calls the story came together.  A previous employee of mine owns a floral shop with their wife and had received an order for flowers for “Kevin Hoag” in Holland Hospital.  When they got to work they shared the news with their team mates.  One of them called up to the hospital and actually talked to “my son” for a while never realizing that it wasn’t me in the hospital.  All of a sudden it made sense.

My heart and prayers are going out for the “Kevin” that is in the hospital.  He is going through something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  On the other hand, in a way it really made my day to know that in a “time of need” that I would have so much support from people I had worked with in the past.  In today’s world of Facebook, Tweeting and cell phones it doesn’t take long for word to travel and it was quite refreshing to find out that people can connect in an instant for a positive effort even if just kind words and sharing of prayers.

I just started a new job and one of the things I had discussed with my wife was that I was really going to try to stay “absolutely professional” with my team members.  That I was going to try to keep our relationships on a business level unlike what I have done in the past when I have gotten to know about their lives and families.  My reasoning was simple, I didn’t care about the company when I was let go but the loss of all the friendships I had made was a tough pill to swallow.  If I keep it “all business” then I won’t allow myself to feel the hardship when those relationships are taken away.

Today put my mind right again.  I can’t help but care about my team members and what is going on in their lives.  That’s just the way I am and if I do anything other than that then I am not going to truly enjoy my job.  Let’s face it, when you lead a team of people for 12 hours a day, you can’t help but get to know and care about them.  And really, what is wrong about caring for the people you work with?  In order to be a good coach, you need to know your people.  What motivates them.  What challenges they are having.  What makes them tick and if you don’t take the time to understand them you are not going to be truly successful in coaching them.

So this Friday when I go back into work, I am going to make sure to take the time to talk with my team members and really get to know them.  After all, they’re the ones I count on daily to get the job done and I owe it to them!

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Tools vs. Culture


Tool board

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This week during work I have heard the name of a tool used at least 150 times.  We are very concerned about our safety and as everyone knows housekeeping is a big part of having a safe environment.  Being new to the plant, I am shadowing supervisors across several shifts to get to know my peers and their teams and also to gauge the culture among all three shifts.  In each stand-up that I have attended, the last subject talked about is 5S.  “Make sure you 5S your area today.”  “Don’t forget to 5S your work center today.”  “Take a couple minutes at end of shift to 5S your area tonight.”  I started getting really excited because if they are talking about it so much they must really understand and apply the 5S system.

At the end of one of the stand ups when it was time for any questions, one of the team members raised their hand and asked a great question.  “What is 5S?”  Now to be fair, this was a fairly new employee.  In fact they had only been on the crew for a few days but to me it went deeper than that.  If 5S was really ingrained in the culture, it would have been discussed on their first day of training as part of their daily routine.  They wouldn’t have been an expert at it but they would at least know what it was.  I went out to the floor to observe what visuals were out there to “gauge” the 5S culture.  The first thing I noticed was that there were some very complex shadow boards made for the hand tools in some of the work centers.  Someone really took some time to make some top of the line boards.  Imagine my disappointment when I looked and half the tools were missing.

The other thing that was missing was any form of check and balance (i.e. checklist, score boards, etc.)  I paid close attention to the “5S activity” that took place through the next couple shifts.  There was definite activities taking place.  Taping the floor, wiping down the machines, getting rid of the “junk” that had accumulated, etc.  When I talked to the team members I often heard “well this tape is only going to last about eight hours but we need to do it”.  I then pulled a particular bright team member to the side and started asking about the 5S initiative.  It proved what I had originally thought.  I simply asked “what training have you had in regards to 5S.”  Their answer was no surprise to me.  “Well, not a lot.  We know you should tape out things that are normally there and we should clean like this everyday but it normally builds up over time until someone says something.”

I have found myself in a perfect example of teaching a tool while not teaching the philosophy behind it.  Obviously, the team members understand the concept behind the tool but they haven’t figured out what’s in it for them.  The other thing missing is the expectation and accountability of us as leadership to maintain a successful 5S system.  The challenge now is how do you implement a tool that has been incorrectly implemented or not sustained in a very busy environment?  Well here is my plan and hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to update our progress.

  1. Pick an area that is used on all three shifts to be our benchmark work center.  This will allow us to have the same expectations for that work center across all three shifts.  There is nothing more frustrating for a team learning 5S to come in each day and spend the first 15 minutes getting everything back in place because the previous shift don’t understand the importance or expectation of the activity.
  2. Train the philosophy before training the tool.  There are a lot of different “tools” out there to train the philosophy that are simple and quick.  My personal favorite is one that can be done on the floor in minutes before each step.  It is a sheet of sporadic numbers all over a piece of paper where you have the team members put in numerical order and time them.  Then you use the 5S’s to “clean up” and organize the numbers.  After each stage you run the simulation and time them so that they can see the impact of each S.  I guarantee you that they will have significant improvement each step of the way.
  3. After each step of the “simulation” we will have them apply it to their work center.  We obviously will have to start with one shift but this will allow the following shifts to “fine tune” and give input as to how the work center should be.  Anyone who has done a 5S knows that it typically can not be implemented in a couple of hours so there will be plenty of opportunity for everyone to get involved.
  4. We have support people or what some might call “team leads” for different areas.  We will spend extra time with these individuals to build them into experts of our expectations so that as we branch out through the plant, they will be able to help train other employees.  This will also help increase ownership for them in the process.
  5. Finally and most importantly, we will set up an auditing schedule to make sure that the expectation is upheld.  Once the 5S implementation is completed the expectations will have to be clear and there must be formalized accountability for not adhering to the expectations.

How will we know if we are successful?  To me that is the easy one.  Anyone who has done 5S knows that many metrics should improve: Safety Incidents, Productivity, Quality, etc.  More importantly, my hope is that the team and those around them will see the improvement and want to do it for their own work centers.  To me that will show us what we are really going after… team engagement.

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Just Remember… Breathe!


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Today was a very interesting day.  After being downsized from a company that I worked 60 plus hours a week for I started my new journey at a new company.  I learned that no matter how much I mentally planned for the day, returning to work after 5 months off is always going to be a challenge.  I am not saying it was a bad thing, I simply had to “reactivate” parts of my brain that I had let go dormant this summer.

One of the things I noticed is that “bad” habits had made their way back into my problem solving.  I got to spend two hours of strictly observing the process and my good ol’ number 2 pencil started flying all over my notebook.  I have always known that fresh eyes see new things but my mind went into information overload with what I was seeing.  The exciting thing is that it is in a new industry so I was able to look at things in a different approach and I began to realize that the possibilities were limitless.  Unfortunately, I started focusing on the changes I wanted to make without truly understanding any of the issues.  Sure I could fly by and make changes and they may even make positive results but the question I had to remind myself was, “Is this our biggest issue?”

After one day there is no way that I could ever tell what our biggest issue is.  That is going to take some time to figure out.  That doesn’t mean that I am going to stand still but I am definitely going to take the appropriate time to identify what is in the best interest of our plant and company.  I fear doing anything else could give a wrong impression to my team that I am going after a “fly by” approach.  So I am going to take a step back, breathe and determine the best plan of action to go after.  After all, my true success will be measured by the learning and application of lean by my team and not necessarily what “I” do.

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My Turtle and My Hare

I have been blessed with two boys ages 13 and 16.  I often sit back and watch them and wonder how two totally different kids could have ever came from the same parents.  This week is Spirit Week for their High School and one day of participation was called “Duct Tape Day.”  The concept was simple: decorate your clothes with duct tape.  What followed was a week of incredible observation on my part.

My youngest son got all excited and jumped all over it with great gusto!  The night he found out about it he came home from school, stole my only roll of duct tape and proceeded to tape up one of his T-shirts.  This brought about a lot of discussion by the family and the duct taping festivities began.  My oldest son decided that he would talk about it for three days and start working on it the night before he had to do it.  He came up with a great  idea.  He talked his mom into buying an old suit at Goodwill and turning it into a duct tape tuxedo.  Unfortunately, his extensive planning almost used up all his time and he almost didn’t get it done before he needed it.

As I sat back today and thought about it, I quickly realized that both of them exhibited traits that I have done before when problem solving.  I love writing out PDCA’s and plans but there have been times when I take way too long writing them and then struggle to get the activity done before it needs to be done.  On the other hand, I have had times that I have been so excited about trying a countermeasure that I haven’t taken the appropriate amount of time to problem solve the true issue.  So how do you find an equal balance that allows you enough time to problem solve the issue yet allows you to fix the issue in a timely manner?

I thought back to my lean training and remembered one of the first tools my Sensei taught me.  At the beginning of each week he required me to fill out a form that planned out my week.  On it was my plans for activities for the week, the struggles and learning’s I had doing these activities, what my results were for the week and what I was going to work on the next week.  It then hit me that both of my boys failed to have a plan that included the goal of the project, how long it should take and what steps should be completed by a certain time to ensure success.

I begin a new job on Monday with a new company.  Much like a kid at the end of summer I am extremely excited about entering a new voyage knowing that in a few months that the honeymoon will be over and the daily stress and struggles of work will settle in.  All I know is that I report at the shop at 8am, go to an orientation and then pair up with the supervisor from another shift to get me settled in.  I am open ended on when I go to my shift and begin taking over my duties since they base it on my progress.  (Which is a positive sign to me about their value on training.)  However, how would I make a plan for that?

Rather than doing the easy thing and saying, “I don’t need a plan for next week, I’ll let them take care of it” I decided that I would sit down and write one out.  There are several reasons behind my thinking.  First, there are a lot of questions I have about my new company and if I don’t write them down I know I will forget them.  Next and probably most importantly, how am I to reflect about my week and learn from it if I don’t have an expectation for the week?  You might ask “what could I learn” but simply looking at what I enjoy most and what I would want improve in my training could help me build a better new orientation for my team members.

The lesson for myself is simple.  Those times that it seems most difficult to come up with a plan are the times that it is most important to have one.  I might arrive on Monday and find an agenda for my activities has been written and that will be great.  It will address the things the company determines that I need to learn for that time.  However, if I don’t list out my personal expectations for the week I might come up empty handed to my needs next week.  Also, I will miss the opportunity for reflection on my week to see what I can do better and what I liked about the week.  Bottom line is simple, TPS has taught us that we always need a plan.

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Where Do Personal Beliefs and Work Fit Together?

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If you are in supervision for any length of time you will find out that team members personal beliefs often impact the work place.  It doesn’t matter what belief you hold, it impacts your behavior and therefore impacts the team that you are on.  It can quickly become a complicated matter for any supervisor and I strongly recommend that you connect with your HR rep when a question arises as the legal ramifications can get really tricky.  This blog is not to discuss specific issues but rather discuss how the TPS theory applies to how a supervisor is to handle different backgrounds.

One place that I worked with actually changed the terminology from diversity to inclusiveness.  To me, this really made a statement.  Inclusiveness means to take everyone’s differences and include them into the organization.  This can be challenging but it really is rewarding.  If we as leaders look at all the differences among our team members and highlight the best things that they can offer our team, we will have a dynamic team.  However, if we “stereotype” and cast off people because of a belief that we have, we often end up with a team made up of “like minded” people that will often see things in a very narrow tunnel.  Being inclusive of our diverse team members will make our teams have a open minded vision loaded with creativity.

The first challenge as a leader that you must face is your own beliefs and opinions.  I have never met anyone that doesn’t have any preconceived notions about individuals.  Notice, I didn’t say races, I said individuals. You can have two identical twins interviewing to be on your team and one might be outspoken and one shy and it can shape your opinion dramatically.  This goes for all differences: race, sex, sexual orientation, education, background, vocabulary, the list goes on and on.  As a leader for your organization, you must get over your own “perceptions” and truly look at what the individual can bring to your team.  If you can’t, I guarantee that you are going to miss out.

So how does one get over these personal beliefs?  I can only offer what I do.  The one thing my belief tells me is that I am to help grow and develop talent no matter what.  As often has been said, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.”  When developing team members that are different from my personal belief, I rely on the fact the expectation for me is to do my best to develop the individuals trusted to me and leave the “judgment” of them to others.  This recipe has done amazing things for me.  Let me give a basic true life example.  I was interviewing internal candidates for a machine operator position.  I had a ton of applicants and even before interviewing them I had a preconceived notion on who I was going to hire.  Since the machine they were going to be running was a monster, I was looking for a healthy young guy that could scare the chrome off a bumper.

I narrowed the applicants down to about ten people and began interviewing.  I then narrowed it down to about five people and brought them in for a team interview which included my manager and a team member that they would be joining.  I like doing this because often the previous team member will take the new team member under their wing when they join.  Four of the five candidates were what I had in my mind including my “favorite”.  They were husky guys that could handle the tough job of running the machine.  Imagine my interview teams faces when a perfectly manicured, smartly dressed lady came into the room.  I could see them questioning with their eyes as to why we were wasting our time with her.

As the questioning started, they soon realized what I had seen in her.  The candidate not only had tons of machine operator experience, she had the greatest attitude towards TPS and teamwork.  When she left the room both my manager and team member looked at me and said “she’s the one.”  This really surprised me since my favorite was heavily influenced by my manager that had worked with him before.  By putting our stereotypes aside, we were able to pick a team member that proved extremely successful and brought a lot to the team.  This team member went on to volunteer to be our BBS (Behavior Based Safety) rep as well as bring a ton of great ideas to the table during our daily problem solving.

As I said, this is a basic example.  I have had the same experience when dealing with people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and sexual orientation.  By looking at what the team member has to offer the team rather than the differences they might share with me, I have been able to build some extremely successful teams.  One might ask, how do you get your team members to be as open minded as you need to be.  The answer is simple.  Set the expectation.  You can’t require them to approve of the differences amongst each other but you can demand that they keep their personal opinions outside of the department and work together with all their team mates.  You will get challenged on this as a leader, but after you stand up and hold your team members accountable to the expectation you will see a culture shift within your team.

So, how does this tie into TPS?  Simple.  Whenever you are problem solving TPS teaches us that we need to look at a magnitude of countermeasures to determine the best solution.  When choosing our team members we need to do the same thing.  How often have you tried to test a countermeasure and heard your team say “that won’t work” only to try it and find out that it works great?  The same will happen if you keep an open mind when dealing with diverse people.  When people are different, they look at problems differently and will come up with multiple solutions.  It could be something as simple as something that they experienced in their up bringing.  Bottom line is the more inclusive you are with the differences of your team members, the more successful your team will be.

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Just Because You Own A Tool Box Doesn’t Mean Your A Mechanic

Tool Box

I have had the opportunity to interview for several really good companies this past week.  There are two in particular that have really stood out to me.  The first one was a company that I have really admired from a far and wanted to work at for some time and one that I have been very familiar with but never thought of working at because of the industry it is in.  Being part of a downsizing with my last company, I have been very conscious about where I wanted to go but as I have said many times before, I believe God has a plan for me and He decided to open a door that I never thought about knocking on.

Both companies followed the same process.  First a phone interview to see if you are worth the time talking to and then a face to face interview if you meet their standards.  What separated the two companies apart for me was the questions that they asked.  Ironically, they asked the same questions but what stood out to me was how they asked them.  One particular question and discussion of the answer really stood out to me.  One company asked “What is a major project that you have completed” while the other company asked, “If you were asked to implement a kanban what information and tools would you need to be successful?”  Re-read those two questions and see if the difference stands out to you as much as it stands out to me.

I have 15 solid years in supervision in the manufacturing world.  Anyone with that amount of time should be able to name at least one successful project that they have been a part of.  Let’s face it… everyone gets lucky at some time in their career.  On the other hand, by giving a concept and asking what you need to complete it truly shows whether or not you know what you are talking about.  After hanging up the phone and reflecting on the interview, a picture of a mechanic came into mind.

I have been to many “name brand” mechanics and been impressed with their garage.  They have all the snap-on tools with their fancy tool boxes.  I have also received estimates from them only to find out after my vehicle has been torn apart that I either need to give them an extra $200 to fix the problem or for them to say it’s a problem that they don’t work on.  Now, when I have a mechanical issue, I take it to a friend of mine who works out of a garage in his back yard.  He is not a licensed mechanic but he is an engineer by trade and he knows what he’s doing.  He does great work at a fair price and guess what?  He doesn’t have the prettiest tools in the world like those “brand named” shops.  I have come to realize that just because you have the newest and prettiest tools in your tool box doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to use them!

The way that the question was asked also told me a lot about the organizations looking at me.  One seemed to know the “buzz words” of the time and it really felt that talking about lean made them feel really good about themselves.  On the other hand, the second company gave me the feeling that they were a company very serious about their lean journey and looking for people that understood the road ahead of them.  That gave me a really good feeling about a company I had previously purposely overlooked.  I don’t for a second believe that I know all the tools associated with Lean Manufacturing.  In all honesty, I don’t think that there are many that do.  But, I am confident in the ones that I have learned and know that the whole purpose of continuous improvement is to continually learn.  A tool that you have used a hundred times before utilized in a different environment or situation is sure to show you something new.

Anyone can walk into an interview and talk about all the miscellaneous tools associated with lean manufacturing.  5S, Kanban, Kaizen, Takt Time, Pareto Charts, Kamishibai Boards, Gemba, WIP, Just In Time, the list goes on and on.  Unless you are trained in them and know which tool is appropriate for each situation you are not going to be effective in your job.  Much like just because I own a socket set doesn’t necessarily mean I know how to fix an engine.  The tools are exactly that… just tools.  The theory and ability to apply them to the necessary situation is just as important as knowing or “owning” the tool.  That is why the way they both asked the same question is so important.  I know for a fact that when I am interviewing candidates in the future, I will ask questions that will make the applicant demonstrate their actual knowledge rather than just knowing the buzz words.

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Be Careful What You Ask For

Common Frog (Rana temporaria). Photo taken nea...

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First off, I want to do remind folks that this blog is as much a journal for reflection for me as anything else.  What I have found is that I have had so many incredible experiences working within lean manufacturing and I often try to recall specifics and fail miserably.  This is a simple and free way for me to log my reflections and if it sparks interest or helps someone else that is a bonus.  I don’t want to sound weird but I just wanted to clarify the purpose for this blog.

Today I had a really interesting question posed to me during an interview.  It was the first time that someone had asked me it and it really made me define why I am a supervisor.  The question was this: If you had a choice between working in a department that had been practicing lean principles for years and was rather quite stable or working in an environment that was just starting to learn the lean philosophies which would you choose?  What an incredible question to gauge a persons passion in life.

I am sure that it would be no surprise to anyone that I would prefer the team just starting their journey.  The reasoning is simple.  I love working with and developing people and that is where the most opportunity would be.  Their reply was “and you understand that is where the most hours and stress are, right?”  Of course I did.  Look at my last 15 years of supervisory experience.  Let’s just say that stress seems to be a prerequisite of a supervisor.  When you divide the pay by the hours, no supervisor really makes a “fortune.”  When others can just punch out and go home, a supervisor often carries the work home with them if nothing other then in the blank stares they sometimes share with their families at dinner.

Bottom line, being a supervisor is not an easy job.  But I can’t think of a more rewarding one.  I have never found a job that stimulates my emotions, mind and body the way this one does.  So to my fellow supervisors, my hats off to you.  It is a thankless job at times but I hope you find it as rewarding as I do.

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All We Need Is The Simple K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple stupid

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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.

Employee Rewards

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.

Continuous Improvement

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.

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Why Manufacturing Should Move Into West Michigan

I am absolutely lost at words today.  It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, in fact it is quite the opposite.  I just don’t know what I should say.  Back in June 2010, I went through the painful process of being downsized at Herman Miller in Zeeland, Mi.  I was a dedicated member of management for 9 years and I honestly feel I gave the company everything that I could.  I held my head high as I walked out the door for the final time and reminded myself that the risk of downsizing is part of being middle management in today’s business world.

I also want to state that HMI is a great company that treated me with great respect throughout my entire time with them.  I have never worked for another company that truly cares about their employees as much as they do and I would go back  there in a heartbeat.  So, what has me speechless?  Imagine my surprise when I turn on the news to find out that HMI is up for a major state tax credit for creating 600 new jobs.  I just lost my job 5 months ago and now the state of Michigan is going to give the same company a tax credit for hiring 600 new jobs since orders are finally increasing?  I am confused.

This isn’t the first time the wonderful state of Michigan has done this.  Within the last two years they did the same thing for Haworth Inc.  Haworth is another office furniture maker in Holland, MI that had just closed their Allegan, MI chair plant.  It almost seems like our politicians want to entice our local businesses to eliminate jobs simply to reward them later for hiring “replacements” when business picks back up.  Ironically, I can find no reason at all to blame the companies that are taking advantage of these tax advantages.  It is simply smart business on their part.  I do however have a major issue with the state handing these credits out.

In a couple of my posts I have referred to what Toyota did in the beginning of  the recession.  They took the opportunity to train their employees and make process improvements rather than lay them off.  Why isn’t the state of Michigan offering incentives for actions like that.  To me that is a better situation for all people involved and that includes the shareholders.  Let’s look at the cost associated for the companies between the two scenarios.

I, like the many others that were let go, over 600 per The Holland Sentinel, were given severance pay.  During that severance time, the company also graciously continued our medical, dental and vision.  That is some major dollars for people that are not contributing to the company.  After that, the state of Michigan begins to pay unemployment which can extend for up to two years.  So bottom line, the company and the state are both paying out tons of money for people who are looking for work.  Within two years, the state is then paying out major tax credits to companies to rehire people.  I can tell you as a member of management, chances of myself ever being brought back is slim to none and I understand that.  That goes with the job and is part of being management.  I do know from word of mouth almost all of the hourly people have been called back to work.

Two years is a long time for people to be out of work.  Especially when a company has been in a major cost cutting mode.  Bottom line, there is going to have to be a lot of time attributed to retraining those employees as well as any new people joining the company.  Training is a major expense that is often neglected since business picks up quickly and time is money.  This adds into quality issues, safety issues and definitely productivity issues.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to give these “credits” to the company for retaining their employees for training and improvements?  That way when business does pick up, they are ready for the influx of business and even more profitable.

This also helps out the state.  It eliminates all the unemployment benefits being paid out and most importantly, it keeps people at work!!!  This generates revenue for the state and frees up resources that could be used for better things.

I have been involved in the office furniture business for over 15 years.  Without fail, the industry takes a dive every seven or so years.  This past recession really hit the industry hard and there is nothing we can do now but look back and arm chair quarterback the decisions that were made.  My hope would be that when the next slide hits, people will be willing to look at things differently and try a different approach.  Especially our politicians!!!  It still amazes me that the US government paid out billions of dollars to Savings and Loans which did nothing for keeping people employed, in most cases it simply extended the agony of people losing their homes and way of life.

As for my thoughts on Herman Miller.  Are you ready for the rants and raves of an ex-employee?  I wish them the absolute best of luck!!!  They are still a great company with an incredible leadership that makes very tough decisions when they have to.  I hold nothing against them and I actually appreciate all they have done for me and my family these last nine years.  If I were in their shoes, I would have done the same thing and that is the reason I still hold stock with them.  As for our state representatives?  They’ll find out this November!

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