If manufacturing companies are to improve their business performance and productivity, they need to look very closely at the attitude of their employees.
Companies should not waste time and money on training employees who have the wrong attitude towards change. If forward-thinking businesses cannot remove the poor attitude problem in their workforce first, enterprise-wide training initiatives – such as 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and Seven Wastes – are likely to fail or will not sustain themselves for long enough to reap any rewards.
If a company wants to continuously improve its performance and productivity, it needs to start by recruiting the right people with the right attitude. This is not an easy process, as many businesses already have a workforce when they need to change things. However, it is crucial to the success of any business improvement initiative, particularly companies who embark on 5S or Six Sigma programmes, that any attitude problems are eliminated prior to the project.
Having learnt a great deal from Japanese companies in terms of their manufacturing philosophy, one major goal for continuous improvement initiatives in the industrial sectors is to improve quality rating above 98%.
When I was owner of PP Control & Automation, I opened a training school of excellence with the aim of providing structured learning facilities for all employees and to act as a catalyst in changing peoples’ attitudes towards change throughout the business.
When a company embarks upon a programme that involves changing the work culture, it is important the rate of learning is greater than the rate of change. The next significant step in continuous business improvement is that companies should frequently train and develop the skills of their workforce. Training should not be viewed as a cost to the business, but as an investment.
Training of all employees should be a continuous process. At PP, every staff member, which at the time of the academy’s opening was around 150 people, was provided with an average of 200 hours of training a year, 60% of which was practical and the remaining 40% theoretical or classroom-based.
Another key element of any business performance/productivity initiative is to make the learning ‘strategic’. This means training everyone, not just isolated pockets. Ensure that Lean, 5S and Six Sigma initiatives are embraced by the whole business, not just certain departments, or manufacturing divisions. The whole company workforce should be committed otherwise the results will be disappointing.
When it comes to putting 5S, Lean or Kaizen training programmes into practice, businesses need to be aware that these tools cannot be carried out in isolation – a broad-brush approach across the organisation must be taken for these initiatives to succeed.
In addition, ownership is key to achieving continuous business improvement; employees should be able to identify problems and issues in their department and solve them. Structured learning and training that includes specific practical projects will ensure that employees are trained to recognise potential problems and have the ability to resolve them. It is only then that staff will start to take ownership.
Software can also play a part in continuous improvement and enhanced performance in terms of calculating statistics and sending out reports to check whether a company is meeting key performance indicators. However, the use of software is merely a support mechanism, as it does not directly improve a company’s business performance.
Generally, there is a cost associated with any business improvement initiative, but the end result is simple. The more a company trains its staff, the better they will perform as a result.
The importance of attitude should not be ignored. I embraced a recruitment policy based on a strategy adopted by Jack Welch at General Electric in the early 1990s. It is a system that classifies existing and potential new employees into three categories – A, B or C.
A’s are people who are fully competent and committed to the business. B’s are employees who are fully committed to the company but require further training to become competent employees. Employees who fall into the C category should be removed from the business. They may be fully competent in terms of skills, but are reluctant to change and, typically, have a very negative attitude towards change and/or new initiatives.
The simple policy employed at GE was to ensure that the organisation always recruited either A’s or B’s and never C’s. Implementing GE’s recruitment policy, a company should always look at ways of removing the C’s first and then try to turn the B’s into A’s through structured training.
When I first adopted GE’s recruitment policy back in 1998, not everything was straightforward. Almost 30% of the company’s workforce at the time were C’s and the business ended up wasting three years trying to turn these C’s into B’s and failed.
I later embraced GE’s philosophy to its fullest, changing the recruitment policy and only hiring people who were deemed as being A’s or B’s.
I always recognised the significant impact that high-quality training can have on a business in terms of performance and growth.
Employing the right people and training specialists and offering a range of tailor-made training programmes and strategic productivity solutions, including Six Sigma, Seven Wastes and 5S training are large-scale projects for any business.
The benefits though are truly significant and possibly the most rewarding change you make in business. It allowed the company I owned for almost 40 years to see rapid growth, maintained even during economic downturns.