Let me begin with an affirmation when you believe that a problem is insurmountable, you are 100% correct, and nothing will ever change. If you tell me a problem is insurmountable, I will say to you BULL! Every time! Why; because if people built it, people can disassemble it. We might have to push at it, swear at it, sweat at it, and kick at it some, but people can disassemble it! When we believe no problem is insurmountable, we are more than ½-way to solving the problem!
At work right now, a colleague has a problem; trainers do not want to come in early and train new hires. Because new hires cannot be trained in off-hours, his team is slipping in production goal attainment. When he drops far enough, his regional bosses will decide more resources need to be spent, and public shaming begins to occur because public notice accompanies greater resource allocation. The bottle-neck is training; the push-back comes from trainers.
The trainers are pushing back because they are already double and triple tasked to training new hires in two other more “important” departments. Except, because those other departments are considered “more important,” production goals for the entire facility will never be met. A core philosophy is missed; when quality fails, nobody meets production goals. The vicious cycles keep going around; training cannot spare people to train quality, quality fails to meet goals, and production goals are missed due to training.
There are times I have wished this was an isolated example; however, this repeats so often I should have cards made. Breaking the training bottle-neck requires thinking outside the standard paradigm, or in more basic vernacular, get out of the box and start thinking anew! While the following solutions are explicitly geared to fixing the training bottle-neck, the pattern for thinking is helpful as a conversation starter. Start the conversation rolling!
Here’s some ideas:
- Off-hours shift training. Look at your operational schedules. Do you have times when equipment is not operating, when the production floor is down, and when people can be trained? Use that time!
- I worked at a manufacturing facility where after the first three days of new-hire orientation, all manufacturing and warehouse employees worked the third shift for their first four months. Why? Training could operate the floors and equipment and work around maintenance without crimping operational schedules or hindering production. Then, new hires went onto the day shift where two extra managers could offer management-by-walk around for additional OJT.
- I have observed warehouses where new hires work a split shift; they come in for 4-hours of training when nobody else is around but trainers, and then 4-hours when the rest of the warehouse is around—giving new hire equipment operators experience in operating in both a quiet environment and a busy environment.
- The idea is to find times when you can safely train without hindering operation tempo. Use the calendar, use a shift rotation, be honest with people and be upfront on expectations and the reality of business needs. Guess what, when you are honest, people respond!
- Appreciative Inquiry – Believe it or not, when you have a problem, a pressing business need, or an urgent issue, your people will pleasantly surprise you with solutions if you listen and act. Too often, I have been stunned ever to forget this lesson; people have brains and ideas, use them, give them credit, and watch them blossom into your best problem solvers!
- It should go without saying, treat people as the professionals you hired.
- My first boss in supply chain quality control did not teach me basic stuff, e.g., this is a part, how you count the pieces, a SKU, etc. The boss presumed I knew or would ask questions, which saved both of us time and resources. More to the point, by treating me as a professional, I grew into being a supply quality control officer and loved the job. I have witnessed the opposite too often to know my experience is not the norm in supply chains, which is detestable.
- You hired a professional; treat them as a professional. Set standards, show them, explain, train them, and build them into greater professionals, primarily by getting out of their way!
- Encourage people never to stop learning through example!
- Who is your customer? Who are your vendors? Who are your stakeholders? Why is this information important?
- Customer service is dead; however, if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders are, so is your business model!
- Customer helping is alive and well; however, your business model is dead if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders!
- Managers, let me give you a hint, your customer is your employees. When was the last time you got to know your customers? When was the last time you helped your customers? Why did you last help your customers?
When it comes to bottle-necks and push-back, knowing your customer is the first step in solving the bottle-neck and charting a positive path through push-back. Consider my colleague, his customer are his employees needing training, his vendor is the training department, and the stakeholders are the rest of the business, those setting production goals, those relying upon his team meeting production goals, and ultimately the paying external customer. Yet, my colleague, cannot see who his customer is, does not think of training as a vendor, and the rest of the business as a stakeholder, for this is not how he was trained. Worse, his business unit refuses to accept this method of thinking to improve production goal attainment.
- Leadership must lead by first embracing new thinking and possibilities.
Previously in my career, it was a pleasure and adventure to be on a project where the leadership wanted a solution to their problem. However, the leaders did not want to change, at all. They wanted a solution, but refused to change in any shape, form, or method. Worse, the leaders did not admit they did not want to change because they themselves had not considered that a solution would require change. Thus, when the solution was delivered, it looked like a great idea, on paper. But, the second it was implemented, reality bit, change was coming, and this scared the leadership team into panic mode. Add in the coming economic downturn that had already started to hurt the company, and panic turned into a full-on disaster.
Leaders, it is imperative that you lead first by example personally, then by actions professionally, then only if necessary by words. When you observe new thinking on an old idea, embrace that and see where it goes. Even if the new idea fails, build people! Production goals are about human efforts distilled into statistical symbols. Never forget about the human element. Build people, and you meet production goals. Build quality into every single transaction, and you meet production goals. Fail people, and you will never meet production goals! Fail quality, and you will fail to meet production goals.
I cannot make this any simpler!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.