Three Careers On Their Way To Being Wasted

By on April 14, 2015
Three Careers On Their Way To Being Wasted

Tom looked at me and with tears in his eyes said, “You know, George, this is the first time in the twenty years that I’ve worked in this plant that anyone ever said to me, ‘Tom, what do you think about this?’”

When I asked if she had any ideas about how to improve the way equipment was arranged in her work cell, Kim said to me, “You shouldn’t ask me that question. That’s a question for my supervisor.”

Ed said to me, “Remember how you told us that management would like to hear our ideas. Well, here’s what happened to me. I told the plant manager that I had an idea about how to fix a piece of broken equipment. He told me to shut up and get back to work, that he paid me to work and not to think.”

Three careers on their way to being wasted. Tom who assumed that managers and supervisors thought he was too stupid to have any good ideas. Kim who doubted that she really had the ability to come up with good ideas. Ed whose enthusiasm had been squashed by the plant manager.

“Always listen to your workers.” — Henry Ford

Fortunately, with each of these individuals, what you’ve heard is only half the story. Gradually, over time and with good coaching, the perspectives of Tom, Kim, and Ed changed.

After getting very positive feedback from members of the plant’s 5S Team, Tom got actively involved in process improvement work.

Kim came to realize that she did have some good ideas and that it was fun to put her ideas on the plant’s Idea Board and to see these ideas get acted upon.

After getting an apology from the plant manager and some good coaching from his supervisor, Ed worked hard to make his work area the most 5S compliant work area in the plant. He also joined the plant’s 5S team and became a very active contributor to its work.

The transformations of Tom, Kim, and Ed took time. The degree to which they were engaged in their work steadily increased. They became exactly the type of employees that make Lean sustainable.

“Respect – Trust – Candor” — Taiichi Ohno

What was the primary force that drove these transformations? Although the tools of Lean—5S Kanban, Visual Controls—were being implemented in their plants, these weren’t the force that drove the changes in their perspectives.

These changes were driven by managers and supervisors who understood and accepted the basic beliefs which form the necessary foundation for a Lean transformation. What are these beliefs? They have been best articulated by the two prime architects of Lean, Taiichi Ohno and Henry Ford.

Taiichi Ohno understood that the Toyota Production System could only be sustained in a work environment in which all workers were shown great respect, a work environment in which candor and trust were defining characteristics. He said, “One of the greatest discoveries a person makes, one of their great surprises, is to find they can do what they were afraid they couldn’t do.” This is a perfect description of what happened with Tom, Kim, and Ed.

Henry Ford, after his great success in building the world’s leading automobile manufacturer in the early twentieth century, realized that his life needed to have a higher purpose than just making money. This is the way he described it, “I am in a peculiar position. No one can give me anything. There is nothing I want that I cannot have. But I do not want the things that money can buy. I want to live a life that makes the world a little better for my having lived in it.” And Ford played out this intent by making the life of workers in his plant more fulfilling. For example, he said, “Workers are partners, not cogs in a wheel.” In acting upon this belief, he spent time on the line, talking with workers, soliciting their ideas. He said, “All of my workers know that their ideas will be listened to and acted upon.” This is a perfect description of what the environments in which Tom, Kim, and Ed worked were in the process of becoming.

The Lean Transformation Process designed by our Corporate Services Group directly reflects the teachings of Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno. That’s why it has been successful in supporting a wide range of organizations as they undergo Lean transformations. What happened to Tom, Kim, and Ed wasn’t accidental. It was the thinking of Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno that made it happen.

I’d very much appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you about ways of putting the thinking of Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno to work in your organizations. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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