By engaging employees, a manager improves productivity and avoids closing the plant. This is his story in his words.
“Iwas a Plant Manager at the California Plant of a multi-plant Fortune 50 company. There I worked with Meridian Group for a number of years, and with their help, became a student of the cultural approach to leadership. During all my years at the California plant, this operation was the number one or number two performer in a thirteen plant nationwide production system. My job was to get quality products on the dock, and I did that through people.”
“I was recognized for my management accomplishments with a promotion to Vice President of the company’s flagship plant in the Midwest. In my five years there, I applied the lessons I learned in California, to take this plant from the highest cost producer to among the company’s lowest cost producers.”
“While much of this was done through capital improvements, the attention to the plant culture allowed these improvements to come on stream with a minimum of plant disruption. I kept this question in front of my mind. ‘How do you get the hearts and minds and interest of the people?’”How do you get the hearts and minds and interest of the people?
Getting Everyone On-Board
“At the first management meeting at the mid-western operation, the managers were ready to give me the production numbers. But I asked ‘How many people were laid off this week, and on what shifts?’ I also asked about accidents. Second I said ‘I want a measure of the quality of production. Then last I’ll want the numbers.’ The response was silence from my managers.”
“I said ‘Here is the direction, how can we get there?’ I got the message out in weekly meetings, and annual meetings. I repeatedly explained the overall goal, and opened the plans to the people affected. This really threw them off base. They were used to management keeping things close. I kept asking [myself and managers], ‘How can we ensure that the people will trust management?’”
“We had weekly meetings with supervisors. These were "No-Agenda" meetings. The topic was relationships. The Plant Manager was there week after week.”
“First I explained the numbers, and if we don’t go from here to there, all our jobs will go, and the plant will shut down. ‘Do you agree with my figures? My choice is to do it or shut it down.’ I put all the numbers out for everyone to see and understand.”
“We had many different unions on the production floor. Because of the increased production, it meant layoffs in one area but more work in another. I committed to no long-term layoffs. That meant a lot of retraining.”
“Over five years we shrank the workforce from 2,500 people to 1,700 people, all by attrition and retirements. On the way we had 1 million man-hours without a lost-time accident. And we did all this while keeping people on-board.”The actual savings were almost double our goal over the five years.
“I had a coherent master plan—reduce cost by one million dollars a month. We aimed at sixty million over five years. We easily achieved that. The actual savings were almost double our goal over the five years.”
“I used lessons I learned at a smaller plant, to change the largest plant in the system.”