Column Management

Improve Through Culture Change

Klaus M. Blache | May 16, 2019

When I visit and/or assess plants, the largest roadblock to improvement that I encounter continues to be a need to improve culture. When enterprises experience success in this area, it usually comes from one of two paths:

• communicating a clear, understandable vision that is believable and carries easily identified benefits

• dissatisfaction that people want to remove or overcome, such as better hours, better pay, or a plant closing.

It’s difficult to change behaviors. People frequently cite the NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) turnaround, in which Toyota used many of the same employees (previously from General Motors) in the same plant with new processes. NUMMI was an automobile manufacturing company in Fremont, CA, jointly owned by General Motors (GM) and Toyota from 1984 to 2010. Although many good plant-floor practices were enabled with extensive coaching, NUMMI employees were initially incentivized by the GM plant closing in 1982.

When lean concepts were being implemented in automobile plants, North American employees were learning about how to properly use Andon cords (cables strung over assembly lines that could be pulled to request help or stop the production line in support of building quality in-station). At first, the employees were worried that there could be negative consequences if they pulled the cords too often. Even though practice sessions worked well, it took some time to develop the required trust and discipline for it to work. Most of the questions involved people issues versus the related technology. NUMMI (Toyota) understood this, so hundreds of coaches from Japan came to mentor the many processes and effect cultural change. Today, the Andon practice continues with many locations now using push buttons.

More than 25 years later, most companies still struggle with the final step of “autonomous maintenance,” which requires operator participation. Yet, all best-practice plants proclaim that a main reason for their success is the production-operator-maintenance relationship.

In “5 Ways Work Culture Will Change”, it is stated that: “Recent research by Hired found that company culture is the second most important factor candidates consider when considering whether to work for a company. At the same time, workplace culture is being influenced by disparate factors in significant ways. Demographic shifts, diversity and inclusion initiatives, talent shortages, automation, evolving technology, and an onslaught of data are converging to create both immediate and long-term changes.”

There is already a shortage of skilled trades/technicians who can perform precision maintenance and engineers trained in reliability and maintainability. The next shortage, also already here, is the need for more data engineers and data scientists to manage all of the information, connectivity, and algorithms. To be competitive, future cultural management will need to integrate these global trends and technical needs and still support core skills such as precision maintenance and reliability and maintainability. EP

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Klaus M. Blache

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