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Visitors are your best auditors: feedback delivers opportunities for improvement

Fresh eye of new employees, suppliers, sales reps and customers are always the best to question or confirm the effectiveness of processes.


Quick debriefings provide an honest look at the visual workplace. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

People soon become immune to their surroundings, which is why feedback and insights from the first-day impressions of new employees and visitors are so valuable, yet most manufacturers miss out on their fresh perceptions and observations.

Many organizations will spend countless hours prepping for an audit, but informal audits and feedback offer some excellent opportunities for improvement.

Outside eyes are in a position to question processes.

Take new employees. Their minds race to capture knowledge of the processes while remembering practical matters such as the location of the washroom and the lunchroom, and where to park. They’re rushed through orientation with the hope they’ll quickly migrate up the learning curve to quickly become productive. But a quick debriefing at the end of the first day will provide an honest look at your visual work place.

Suppliers and sales people are frequent visitors who regularly walk through your plant. In many cases their operations are similar to yours. They may not directly share what they see at other locations but they sure can provide you with some excellent hints.

And don’t forget your prospective customers. After your boring PowerPoint presentations in the boardroom, take them on a tour of the plant. Asking them to fill out a feedback form will reveal what impresses them and whether it aligns with the value proposition you’re pitching.

You can capture their ideas with a simple document. Ask your informal auditors to write down three things that impressed them and could be implemented at their facilities.

Also ask for three simple ideas that would be helpful to your organization. And ask for feedback on what they observed, covering categories such as: safety; workplace organization; effective use of space; scheduling; levels of inventory and work in progress; condition and maintenance of equipment and tools; commitment to quality; and any other observations of note.
Be sure visitors complete the form before departing.

What are you missing?

Finally, some thoughts about perception and how we easily miss things when we’re caught up in our daily routines.

The Washington Post staged an experiment in 2007 to test people’s perception, taste and priorities in a busy subway station on a cold January morning. A man playing a violin performed six complex Bach pieces for about 45 minutes as about 2,000 people made their way to work or to other pressing engagements.

During his concert, only six people stopped briefly to listen, while 20 dropped money in his hat as they passed by. After an hour there was silence. He got no applause but did score $32.

The commuters didn’t know the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played some of the most intricate pieces ever written on a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days prior to the subway recital he had sold out a Boston theatre where ticket prices averaged $100.

One lesson we can learn from this experiment is that if we don’t have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, what else are we missing?

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions.

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