Whistle while you work

Friday, March 4th, 2011 : 1 Comment

As a young line foreman, in a small Chicago factory many years ago, I was charged with the usual array of manufacturing responsibilities: like daily production planning meetings, production line time studies, delays in raw materials and much more. Such was a “typical day” in the life of a plant manager.

Our very forward thinking CEO was passionate about creating a culture that was dedicated to “operational excellence” when the term was not yet in existence.

He spread his goal for OE throughout the company and by a method he called, “managing by walking around”.  He instilled that management style into his line and staff managers.

I learned quickly to pay attention to every production detail and even more attention to the people that made things happen within our company. Follow up with our clients was a critical part of our daily activities. Our philosophy was: “Good, better, best never let it rest until your good is better and your better best”.

As a result of our dedication to organizational excellence, big companies like Ford, General Motors, Caterpillar, and Cummins Engine came calling for our products. Our hard work earned us a reputation for quality, product excellence, competitive price, customer care and speed in delivery. All this by doing the “little things” that together made the difference between excellent and adequate.

As I went on in my manufacturing career to larger companies with thousands of employees, I did not often find that dedication to excellence. The focus was on speed, with less focus on quality or encouraging for employees. The result was high employee turnover, late deliveries, poor quality, and irate customers.

I missed the small company where I had learned so much about product quality, meeting customer needs, quick and polite client services and customer appreciation. We had created a culture that we called “whistle while you work” at that plant. Our employee turnover was so low that several generations of families made a decent living working at our factory.

In these current economic times, company culture, operational excellence and continuous improvement are vital to maintaining a competitive edge.

Are we less focused on operational excellence today and satisfied to just do an “OK” job with little concern for the satisfaction of our customer? Can that be one of the reasons so many jobs are being lost to competitors? Should we be looking at creative ways and supporting technologies that include Lean strategies and solutions for the future? Any thoughts or comments?

Post written by Bill Z.

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One Response to Whistle while you work

  1. Steve Milner says:

    I know what you’re getting at but suspect that there is more room for discretion in the smaller company. In a bigger company shades of grey are not so good as black / white; red / green; OK / NG (or NOK, depending on the nomenaclature). If you see a car with an OK sticker on, it’s passed inspection etc. It doesn’t mean ‘it’s only just acceptable’, it meets it’s a good ‘un! If the market percieves it as not good enough, then standards must be raised – and it will be OK by the new standards if it meets them. Exceeding customers expectations might be delight …or it might be waste. Leave it to the marketing and sales people to clarify what’s actually wanted, and ensure that the specification reflects that.

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