Managing people

Focus on details that change the culture.

Apply continuous improvement to employee behaviour and eliminate the wasted time that saps productivity.

Plant processes may be humming along efficiently but certain employee behaviours could be sapping productivity and quality. Your people are a valuable resource that will benefit from some continuous improvement of their own.

Many employees will tell you it’s acceptable to take one sick day per month off and there shouldn’t be any repercussions. This represents a 0.5% labour increase, not including the additional cost of managing the disturbance when the absence occurs and the impact it will have on other team members and production goals.

Many years ago a lean sensei taught there is a strong relationship between attendance, performance and quality. A poor attendee is a poor performer and a poor performer naturally generates poor quality. If you manage employees around performance issues it will take time to gather data only to be told by human resources that you have failed to provide proper training or guidance.

Many companies have stealth programs known only to management, yet the people on the ground know who the marginal team members are and quietly wonder why they aren’t dealt with.

Make attendance tracking visible. Initially you need a matrix sheet indicating employee names along the “X” axis with the option of including employee pictures along the “Y” axis squares. Colour-code the individual’s attendance record using the following:

Green = attended and stayed for full scheduled shift.

Yellow = arrived late or left early without prior notification.

Red = did not show for scheduled shift.

Blue = approved absence.

Two critical elements are needed to support the initiative: an attendance policy and a weekly commitment to meet with casual absentees.

You may get a negative reaction at first, especially from the poor attendees, but this will pass.

Another attendance trick learned from the sensei involves greeting your workers as they arrive before a shift. Show up 15 minutes early and shake every employee’s hand, thanking each one for coming to work and tell the worker how you look forward to his or her personal contribution for the day. The sensei noted employees may like and respect you as the leader but will be less keen about a personal audience each morning. Chances are many of them will arrive more than 15 minutes before the shift starts.

It takes time to change a culture. Commit to the morning greeting every day for a few weeks before doing it on a more random basis.

Success from leading by example lies in the details. For example, during daily report-outs at one plant, managers were gathering garbage from the floor and placing it in local wastebaskets. This would occasionally add significant time to the report-outs. Soon local leaders were doing a quick scan and clean before managers arrived, a practice that became embedded in the plant culture.

Keeping the smoking area clean at another plant offers another example. Smokers were not using the receptacles to butt out. Management decided to add more receptacles but the behaviour continued, so a sign was added. That didn’t change anything so the area was closed.

Leading by example

Another company handled the same problem differently. A manager started the day by picking up spent cigarette butts and placing them in a receptacle as smokers tossed them on the ground. Other smokers asked him why he was doing this. He told them he didn’t want to be one of those responsible for losing the smoking area because of butts on the ground. Within three days the area was free of butts. No sign was needed, just someone showing leadership and humility.

Bank time is a useful tool for employee empowerment and controlling payroll costs. Many companies offer tentative working days, between Christmas and the New Year but those thinking of the employees’ best interests want an extended shutdown. Normally make-up days are scheduled in advance so there’s no interruption to employees’ pay.

When applying bank time, employees work overtime with the option of either getting compensation or banking up to 40 hours within a calendar year. They can withdraw banked hours according to company policy, such as half- or full-day allotments with seven days notice.

Banked time may also be used during slow periods to avoid layoffs.

If the vacation cycle starts in May and banked time is not consumed, one option is to pay employees and start the cycle again.

People are an important resource. Leading them by example while being visible and creative about attendance issues and daily work behaviour will help eliminate inefficiencies that waste time and sap productivity.

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This article appears in the Nov/Dec 2012 edition of PLANT.