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The question of employee involvement.

Where do you stand on the level of involvement of your employees? asks this month's column; How can you increase it effectively?

It seems that everywhere we turn in the nonwovens industry today, companies are looking for ways to increase the involvement of their employees. Some call this empowerment, others says it's increasing ownership. Using either term, companies sense that by unleashing the power (knowledge, skills, initiative) of their employees, they can cut costs, improve quality, increase production, reduce waste and improve morale faster and better. Lofty goals! Who in manufacturing today wouldn't want to reap those benefits?

World-class manufacturing companies involve their operating employees in virtually all aspects of their operations. Operations take over machine preventive maintenance, repairs, safety, quality, process, controls and monitoring. They own the processes. They participate in all decisions affecting their area of operation, such as rebuilds, upgrades, layouts and design. Teams are multi-skilled and continually train and improve to reach increasingly higher levels of knowledge, skill and performance.

Most companies are on the other end of the scale with much less employee involvement. Usually in the form of a suggestion program, they allow employees to submit their ideas and have management decide what to do with these. As we know, after an initial burst of enthusiasm and long lists of suggestions, the program falls into disuse.

Where does your company stand?

As you consider increasing the level of involvement, it is important to realize that not everyone wants to be "empowered." Some people don't want the responsibility, autonomy or challenge that comes with it. They'd just as soon be controlled by those "up the chain of command."

Other people aren't sure and are afraid of the unknown. In a recent engagement, as we brought teams into the training room to kick off the program, I asked them what their expectations were. One employee stood up and in very explicit language told me what she thought of the idea. As silence fell across the room, I thanked her for being straightforward and then, tongue in cheek, asked her to let me know how she really felt. This broke the ice and we moved on. (Incidentally, she became one of the program's strongest supporters.)

The Five Point Program

If you're serious about increasing employee involvement and ownership to world-class levels, following a practical plan for implementation will help ensure your success. The following five point plan has proven effective in transferring ownership to the factory floor, even in the most difficult work environments:

1. Train employees on the basics.

2. Listen actively to determine employee needs.

3. Respond to needs.

4 Monitor program and make adjustments where appropriate.

5. Calibrate teams in accordance with guidelines.

Train On The Basics. Start by training the employees on practical skills such as effective communications, decision-making and conflict resolution. In most cases hourly employees have never been exposed to these skills. In the past they haven't been important. However, these skills give the employees the basics for surviving in an empowered environment. You are giving them the power to decide on things that impact them and the company, so give them the tools to make sure decisions.

Listen Actively. It's been said that hearing is an activity and that listening is an art. As managers in an empowered work environment, the relationship with the employees becomes more one of support and facilitation. To be effective at this requires more listening and less directing. Really listen to employees to find out what is being said. On some occasions, what isn't said may be even more important than what is said! Find out clearly what their needs are. Acknowledge what you have heard and take action!

Respond To Needs. Do something. One of my partners best expressed this as "Lead, follow or get out of the way!" Nothing defeats an employee involvement program easier than failure to respond to the needs of employees. It's simply a matter of demonstrating commitment and building trust. As a manager, in your new role as a coach, you earn the employees' trust and their commitment by responding to them...every time. This is not to say that you need to give them everything they ask for, nor do you do everything yourself.

For example, a recently trained diaper machine operator asked his manager if he could graphically portray the daily results each morning during the daily operations meeting. The department leader made a quick phone call to MIS to check on a procedure and the authorized the employee to make the change himself. The employee was very excited about the new found power to create his own graphs and the department leader gained some time for other priorities. Also, with the rest of the team pitching in, the job was completed by the end of the shift with no loss in downtime on the machine.

As an additional note, if a response takes a while to generate results, be sure to keep teams informed. Don't keep them in the dark where their imaginations will run wild. Give them the facts, even if they aren't pleasant. Believe me, they can handle it and their trust in you will grow.

Monitor And Make Adjustments Monitor how the teams are progressing and using their autonomy. Stay close to the teams in the beginning to be there when they need you to help guide them. However, avoid making too many decisions for them just because you are there. Remember, you're there for support. Your main task is to coach, so let them try their wings and see how they fly. Just steer them away from major pitfalls.

An additional benefit of monitoring closely is that it will show your interest, demonstrate commitment and keep you informed. In work environments where trust is an issue, you can use your monitoring time to resolve problems.

Calibrate Teams. The last step would be to calibrate the teams. The degree of employee involvement will increase as their skills, knowledge and confidence grows. But there will be limits. What's right for one organization may not be right for yours. Consider the cost in time, money and control on both sides of the coin. Base your decision on how well your organization can handle higher levels of involvement and ownership and how much you need from a business standpoint.

We started this article by stating that world-class manufacturing companies involve their operating employees in virtually all aspects of their operations and asked where you stood. If you're serious about increasing employee involvement and ownership to world-class levels, following a practical plan for implementation should help ensure your success. Of course, you must train the employees on basic survival skills and actively listen to their needs. Response to their needs becomes a vital tool to demonstrate commitment and to build trust. As the program progresses, you monitor and make adjustments as appropriate. Calibrating the teams tailors the level of involvement to the company's needs and helps ensure success across the organization.

Now is the time to get your employees involved and reap the benefits! Tom Schuler, Richard Ducote, Jay Frankenfield and Adrian Bridge, of the consulting firm SDF International, write a series of monthly articles on "Profitable Manufacturing-- Using Manufacturing Leverage To Gain A Competitive Advantage in the Nonwovens Industry." SDF's offices are located at 6855 Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Suite 2400, Norcross, GA 30071; (404)447-9750; Fax (404)448-7722.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Profitable Manufacturing
Author:Ducote, Richard
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Stockhausen adds SAP line.
Next Article:1991 figures show increased export and import trade in nonwoven roll goods.

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