Creating a productive workplace

What follows is a discussion between me & my son, who works for Big Co, Inc. Edwards Deming was an Industrial Engineer ( I think) who, in the 1960s sought answers to many issues related to efficient factory production. Green, blue & magenta are my comments; black full width are his. Some of this is on the edge of jargon: Tigercat and Timberpro are brands of forestry equipment. If you have questions, please don’t be afraid to ask. I plan to try to expand on some topics, such as the problems associated with competitive bidding, in future posts.

Christopher (son) prefaced it with the following: “Here are some interesting points concerining people management. This guy seems like he had some really neat ideas. When I looked at them my first reaction was ‘That’s completely untenable, if you remove quotas then how do you know if you reached your goal?’ but the more I think about it, if you shift the focus to quality and hard work/pride in your work, then you don’t need the quotas to begin with. Curious to know if you agree or disagree and any other thoughts you might have.###

Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, to stay in business and to provide jobs. Sort of a linear programming approach. we have to operate within these constraints, but we can still optimize outcomes, based on the criteria we select.

  • Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  • Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place. Assumes employee buy-in and a quality of employee that is hard to find. Team approach w/ accountability can certainly help, but my observations of human nature are that they will cut corners & try to get away with whatever they can. There needs to be an accountability mechanism, whether random inspections or whatever.
This gets to your point about politics and culture: if you’re accountable to your team members (for example, if you #^&^%$ up they don’t get as much profit sharing, though that’s an extreme ‘fear’ driven example) then you’re actually incentivised to not cut corners. In general I agree that there needs to be an accountability mechanism, but it should be self inspection and other team members down the line also watching for errors.
  1. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Absolutely! This is one of the things about competitive bidding that sucks. HIGHEST (OR LOWEST) bid gets the job. Never mind the quality of work. Trick is to identify quantifiable criteria which correlate with performance/quality Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. I’m a little uneasy w/ single supplier. Long term relationships are good. One problem is that customers are focused on price rather than other criteria. See, for example, Tigercat’s cost spreadsheet.
Long term relationships can make or break a company, especially a small one. While the obvious point of Tigercat’s spreadsheet is “over time, we’re the lowest cost equipment,” but I think it’s an important differentiator for them. It shows two things: they’re willing to do things that don’t make money in order to recruit customers and more importantly over time they’re equipment is the lowest cost to operate (which is part of minimizing total cost). This example is fraught, because customers really DO care about that number, and if I’m going to buy a skidder and I could choose Deere or CAT or Tigercat or Timberpro – they’re all going to be comparable to operate for the first 5 or maybe even 10 years (fuel may be the one big variable, but operator, maintainence and consumables (tires) should all be in the ballpark). So if I’m looking at a lot of good options the best differentiator that I have, that is: the best decision making tool I can use, is showroom floor price. What else do I have to go on?
  1. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  2. Institute training on the job. Cross training helps employees understand the impacts of their actions, so that they are willing to take an extra second to make the next step easier or improve flow dynamics.
  3. Institute leadership (see Point 12 and Ch. 8 of “Out of the Crisis”). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers. At one point I told my old boss that I was a tool at his disposal, capable of amazing accomplishments if properly used. So discernment of gifts/aptitudes is important both to self actualization & to production optimization. In a factory production environment, that’s hard: keep the work interesting & still get product out the door. 
This goes back to getting employee buy in. Part of getting employee buy in is catching the “I’m looking for a job” enthusiasm and carrying that into the actual workplace. Recognition for a job well done may be all that your boss was missing, though feeling underutilized and not empowered definitely cramps one’s sense of engagement. The point isn’t to keep the work interesting – the work is boring and repetitive and monotonous – the point (I think) is to keep things interesting by constantly looking for ways to improve, empowering employees to act on those ideas, and most importantly to give them the space to be proud of their work. The catch is that it’s a lot easier to carry new enthusiasm than it is to revive extinguished enthusiasm. But this is one of the reasons that I think that pretty much anyone can be a star employee – you don’t have to be smart to have a good understanding of a simple process and take pride in your work.
  1. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. (See Ch. 3 of “Out of the Crisis”) Fear can be important in keeping people from doing dangerous things. It has its place. I don’t recall fear being part of Maslow’s hierarchy. Positive emotions are even more powerful motivators, but must be allowed to flourish in a safe environment.
I don’t think he’s talking about fear of physical harm, which can certainly be a useful deterrent to engaging in dangerous behavior. He’s talking about fear of unwarranted job termination I think, or even unwarranted chewing out. If quick action is prized but bad news is negatively reinforced then you’re not going to get the news in a timely fashion and you won’t be able to act quickly.
Too often a “shoot the messenger” approach is what actually occurs. As with you guys (kids), The priority has to be to recognize (admit?) that there is a problem, then seek ways to rectify it. Works for process improvements, too. Still, if there’s fear of being told (especially publicly) that your idea is dumb, You’re going to chuck the process. Actions do in fact speak louder than words. That’s part of the problem with the “newest, latest, greatest corporate slogan program.” You’ve mentioned places with Big Co, inc where what management espouses seems remote on the factory floor.  
  1. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, in order to foresee problems of production and usage that may be encountered with the product or service.
  2. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force. Focus on what USFS calls “desired future condition:” outcomes. Focus on what makes achieving outcomes difficult w/ gap analysis or root cause analysis. Focus on the problems and issues, not the people associated w/ them, with the recognition that sometimes the people are the problem.
Understanding and striving for desired outcomes drives engagement and pride in one’s work. If you can get it started it’s a positive feedback loop (if you can get it started).
  1. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute with leadership. Lead by example, but have some sort of disciplinary structure as a backup. That can be team accountability. As you know from school science projects, sometimes there’s a slacker in the ‘hood.
  2. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.
  3. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
  4. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objectives (See Ch. 3 of “Out of the Crisis”).
  5. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  6. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
We’ve seen the problems associated with both paying by the piece (load), and paying a straight hourly rate. It is important to understand that, like cup holders in minivans, people often are unaware of their true needs, desires, and motivations. Deming mentions some things about how management should lead. That has to include the politics  and culture of the company.
Agreed, if management creates a toxic or stifling environment none of this will work and you might as well go back to the quota and micro-management model where wage slaves work for the weekend. The real trick of management is to be able to discern an employees true motivations and play to them. Not necessarily easy to implement, but realistically I think that your lead by example approach works pretty well. It’s also hard when the only team members are you and one employee; when the team member who’s holding you accountable is The Boss it’s hard to feel like there’s a lot of give and take.
Actually, it’s pretty easy with one employee. He’s smart and grasps 1.) significant factors, and 2.)  is good at adapting. There have been times where we were in problem solving mode and his idea/way was clearly better than what I proposed. I try to make a point of affirming him when that’s the case, and also of addressing screw-ups from a collaborative “let’s find a better way” approach. He also values the “if you don’t feel safe doing it, come get me” approach. I’ve also told him there’s not much he can do that I haven’t at least tried. Both get at the safety/not-fear-based environment discussed above.

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