Millions of dollars are lost each year because manufacturing companies are not addressing an essential, straightforward issue. The problem? Groups within the company are just not working together.

Regardless of organizational structure or size, manufacturing companies are made up of multiple groups that must cooperate if the business is to be successful. Productivity is at stake when the two main players, those in management of the company and those in non-management positions on the plant floor, are not working as one unit. Competing against larger companies and those around the world, if productivity is at stake so is survival.

The situation is so pervasive today, manufacturing consultant Rebecca A. Morgan is committed to finding solutions. By offering simple, specific tools developed with client companies learning to work together within their organizations, she wants the manufacturing industry as a whole to take notice as well.

Morgan, the president of Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, says that many companies are too close to the forest to see the trees.

“When I tell them they don’t understand their manufacturing processes as well as they think they do, they tell me they’ve been in the business for years. I say ‘great’ but then I help them understand that when they make a change, they need to be able to predict with accuracy the impact of that change. When they can’t do that, that tells me there are things they still need to learn about their processes,” Morgan says.

A willingness to learn is fundamental to any successful company.

When the management team and the production and maintenance team both realize they are more powerful together, a company can produce one winning team. No longer is it “us” vs. “them,” but instead a powerful force emerges that knows how to recognize problems and how to solve those problems.

Here are just some of the ways she says management and plant-floor teams can start working together to gain a competitive edge:

1) Obliterating false divisions. “What struck me at one recent client was the language that emphasized whether a person were ‘union’ or ‘company.’ I worked diligently to get everyone using the same vocabulary: everyone is now ‘WE.’ Not only did I have them unlock the doors between the production areas and front office, I told them to keep them open as well. Trust began to build, grievances were pulled, and a team began to emerge – one that focused on ‘our’ issues.”

2) Creating seamless shift changes. Communication and support issues resulting from shift changes are problematic for many companies. Second- and third-shift workers are often left feeling like second-class citizens and not part of the picture. I advise companies to create a check list of important information that all shifts need to know for discussion as part of the shift-to-shift handoff. Common categories for the checklist are equipment, people, process and quality issues.”

3) Keeping a clean house. “In lean manufacturing, a methodology called 5-S provides guidance to keeping everything neat, clean, organized and ready to use. An unkempt factory sends a message about the work environment to employees: We don’t care about the customers or the product. Sometimes simply painting the word ‘trash’ on drums used for trash to differentiate them from drums containing material can kick-start the ‘no clutter in my house’ mentality. Management can reinforce the message simply by picking up trash they see whenever they walk the floor.”

4) Listening to all employees. “In many underperforming companies, employees I interview often say management doesn’t listen to them and ‘they just don’t care.’ Ironically, when I interview the management team, they say workers aren’t reliable, don’t show up or can’t follow instructions. While it doesn’t sound like it, the fact is both sides care deeply about what they could accomplish together. Management needs to acknowledge employee requests and communicate back to employees with status reports or even a posted note on the bulletin board. It shows respect and demonstrates management does care about things important to employees. By demonstrating respect, management gains it.”

5) Recognizing individuals. “Each of us has a basic need to feel like we belong and to believe we are valued as an individual. That need doesn’t go away just because we’re at work. Something as simple as taking a photo of each individual employee and posting them together as a group in a high traffic area can go a long way in helping employees feel they belong. Use the caption ‘Our Quality and Customer Service Team’ to emphasize the point. The importance of the individual plus the role each has as part of the team is made visible.”

6) Finding the frustrating fixables. “Find the one or two things that frustrate your employees the most and fix them. One company’s third-shift employees complained that the vending machine was always picked over before their shift. Another company’s die-casting employees had to knock out parts with a hammer — physically demanding and unsafe. Fixing frustrating problems helps open communication lines and adds to management credibility.”

7) Defining success. “Having metrics to measure performance will be lost if employees don’t understand how they relate to them. Identify one or two metrics each for quality, safety, delivery and cost and ensure results are measured constantly and consistently, shared with everyone, and explained in a way that helps employees see how their decisions impact the numbers.”

8) Requiring a written summary for changes. “Off-the-cuff changes created in hallway conversations without specific goals and cause and effect thinking create chaos and an environment of unaccountability. Bring a disciplined thought process for change by requiring that proposed changes are outlined in writing by defining the goal, how the change will be implemented, and evaluation criteria to evaluate if the change had the intended result. This provides the opportunity to teach structured problem solving, gain additional points of view and have an educational post-mortem on the reasons for any unexpected results.”

Says Morgan, “While many of the items on this list are easy to do, all too many manufacturers neglect them because they don’t understand the power these small steps can have.”

For more information on this subject, call Fulcrum at 216-486-9570 or e-mail morgan@fulcrumcwi.com.