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After 100 years: change keeps Hardinge 'young.' (Hardinge Brothers Inc.) (Management Update) (column)

After 100 years: Change keeps Hardinge `young'

Change and employee involvement. That's the formula Hardinge Brothers Inc is using to keep itself young, even as it marks 100 years of corporate existence producing Super-Precision [R] turning machines, collets, and tooling.

"To stay young and productive, you must accept change," says Robert Agan, president, who claims that he, along with his 1200 employees, "look forward to change" and admits they have been setting a torrid pace of keeping up. The CEO obviously feels he doesn't have much choice. "Our company is responding to the industrial changes taking place in the world market," he says.

That pace has been fueled by $4.8 million in spending for research and engineering last year, up 9.3% from the previous year, with a promise of even higher expenditures planned for this year at the Elmira, NY-based company. In the past year or so, that change has included the introduction of Conquest SP, a super-precision lathe; construction of a 42,000-sq-ft addition for both its machinery and collet manufacturing operations; the introduction of the Conquest GT, a gang-tool lathe at the machine-tool show in September; and the reconfiguration of its manufacturing operation into cells, most of which is being designed and set up by the employees. According to William F. Ingram, vice president-marketing, this complements a unique penciless order entry system and a computer-based machine service network.

But perhaps the most employee-involving approach has been the Total Quality Process launched about three years ago - a plan deemed so successful that Mr Agan has put Hardinge in the running for the 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award which in the past has sported winners such as Xerox and Motorola.

The quality effort has meant a major investment in time and effort for the company. Each of the employees, including those in England, Germany, France, and Canada, was put through a two- or three-day seminar on the principles of quality. "If people don't understand the principles of quality and the actions the company is going through, it's not going to work," claims Thomas C Connelly, senior vice president. To date the company has invested some 25,000 hours of classroom time. More is planned.

"I am committed to the idea that by 1993, 5% of all the hours we have available will be spent on education and training," Mr Agan claims.

Another key to success, Mr Agan says, is executive commitment. "If the executive staff isn't committed to the project it just won't work," Mr Connelly concurs. At Hardinge, one of seven executive staff members opened and closed each training seminar. The seven also act as a steering committee for the quality process. They have met monthly for three years "and never had a single staff member miss a meeting," Mr Agan claims.

The process includes quality teams that concentrate on identifying problem areas. The terms "problems" or "errors" are avoided. They are called "gems." Mr Agan explains: "We call them gems because we want people to bring opportunities for improvement to us. We don't want them to worry about bringing forward ward an error."

"The average American worker does not trust his management and feels he's going to get nailed. That is the Number One cultural change we have to overcome in this country," Mr Connelly says. He claims, at Hardinge, no one has ever lost his or her job as a result of bringing foward a gem or putting the Total Quality Process in place."

At the center of the effort to keep Hardinge young and vibrant is communications. "Something we work very hard at," says Carl Bombarger, manager-marketing communications. Besides communicating through the normal employee publications, top management makes itself available on a personal basis. Mr Agan and members of the executive staff meet quarterly with groups of about 100 employees for a state-of-the-business update and question-and-answer session.

Department heads are also encouraged to meet regularly with their employees to discuss goals and objectives. Employees visit customer's plants to see their machines in action. Executive staffers meet in a "coffee break" atmosphere with eight to ten employees to informally discuss quality efforts. All that is in addition to the series of regular meetings held by the quality teams.

"Employee involvement is the best way to keep a company young," emphasizes Douglas C Tifft, vice president-personnel. "We try to drive as much responsibility down the employee chain as we can. The days of the unilateral manager sitting in an office claiming to have all the answers are over. A company can't compete with that mode of operation. We educate people on how to get involved," Mr Tifft says.

It didn't take much to stimulate involvement in the past year, during which Hardinge marked its 100th year in business. Events started in June 1989 with a corporate carnival complete with fireworks, and climaxed with a Willie Nelson concert.

All this time, the company continues to educate the employees on the role they play and the impact they can have on the company's success. Says Mr Agan enthusiastically: "We try to relate to employees that change is coming and that change is good. Change is an opportunity for improvement."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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