Best practice: working culture

Personnel Today’s monthly series reveals how managers deal
with business problems and enhance performance. In this issue, managers of API
Coated Products explain how increasing responsibility on the shop floor
improved the working culture and improved performance by up to 50 per cent

 

What needed addressing and why?

 

API Coated Products is recognised as one of Europe’s leading
speciality coaters of paper and film. It supplies materials for graphical,
medical, automotive, packaging, food manufacture and retail markets. It employs
120 people with a turnover of over £17m. In the light of demanding customer
expectations and global competition, API has developed a programme to make its
manufacturing process world class.

 

Eight years ago API was a traditional top-down manufacturing
company. Management was in fire-fighting mode, dealing with problems as they
arose, with no real control over the manufacturing processes that made up the
business. The culture on the shop floor at that time added to the problem.
Meanwhile, in the factory employees didn’t have any ownership or control over
what they were trying to do and it was purely the management’s job to try to
keep standards up and output at a maximum.

 

Motivational issues within the factory were clearly
hampering productivity. At a teambuilding course (run by Eaton Management
Services), employees were asked to identify the things they were unhappy or
dissatisfied with. Across the board, the response was the same. Employees were
frustrated by the lack of involvement and communication bet-ween them and
management. Almost universally, the feeling was that they didn’t know what was
going on and lacked control over the tasks they were given.

 

The training lasted three days, so it was quite an intense
period away from the factory. When back at work, the training had an immediate
and significant impact on company culture. Employees came out of the courses
ready to put into place all the skills they had learned. But it wasn’t enough
to have a sustained or long-term effect on productivity. Because the actual
working environment hadn’t changed, the problems came back. What was needed was
a way of changing company culture, and sustaining that change.

How we implemented the change

 

The answer lay in a visit to the Best Factory Awards in
Birmingham where the very best of productivity improvement was highlighted. API
then began a programme of improvement that encouraged management to devolve
ownership of the working areas, machines and operating processes to shop floor
employees, giving them greater control over their working activity.

 

The 5S programme adopted by API encourages employees to set
their own standards of work – and stick to them. 5S stands for Sort, Set limits
and locations, Shine and sweep, Standards (which was crucial to API) and
Sustain. The programme, which is just as effective in an office as in a factory,
requires every employee to firstly organise the working environment and then
set standards for every bit of the job they do. It doesn’t matter what the
standard is, just as long as it is identified and kept up. Taking ownership of
the job that needs to be done means there is more motivation to do that job
well, and invariably standards are raised.

 

The programme was introduced on a pilot basis, and was
immediately well received by employees, who were being asked to make their own
decisions and set their own working targets for the first time. This was also a
big change for managers who had to learn to let go of some of their
responsibilities and decision-making and alter management techniques
accordingly. At first there were the inevitable teething troubles as everyone
was trying to adapt to a new way of working. 5S is not an overnight cure for
bad company culture – it takes a lot of time and energy.

 

What you are effectively doing with 5S is highlighting the
variables within any job, and setting standards so that instead of the quality
fluctuating, it is always the same, and of a high standard. It means real
commitment for companies introducing the scheme, but at API it was really worth
the effort. A factory or office worker might have dozens of variable tasks to
fulfil in a day, each of which must be identified with a written standard
explaining how that task is to be properly undertaken in a repeatable manner.

 

Positive outcomes for the business

 

API implemented the 5S programme three years ago and
productivity is up an average of 10 per cent year- on-year. Employees are
dictating their own standards of work, from the organisation of the shop floor
to the operation of equipment. There is an ongoing process of setting a
standard, adhering to it, checking it and acting to restandardise if it falls
behind. It took about a year to get the whole system buttoned down, but now the
factory is maintaining the process and the culture issues are continually
improving.

 

Before API implemented the programme, operator variation
could drag performance down significantly. So it’s not just about making
employees more satisfied with their work – it has had very significant economic
benefits too.

 

The key to the scheme’s success is the ongoing communication
to ensure that standards are being maintained. Management’s job has become more
straightforward as it is only asking employees to do work in a way that they
themselves have agreed to do. Conversely, because employees set their own
standards, they understand why they get in trouble if those standards are not
met.

 

API is continually looking for ways to increase productivity
by improving the working environment and culture for its workers. 5S has
provided the company with a way to increase profits and give employees greater
control. Although it takes time to implement, the improvements are outstanding
– and are built to last.

 

Top Tips: How to reorganise the job culture

 

– It is crucial to get top managers committed to the scheme.
Although the costs are minimal, they won’t reap the rewards immediately, so
their patience and continued support is vital.

 

– Employees must be ready for change. Team building sessions
that highlight where any problems might be can help to prepare employees for
working towards the right solution.

 

– Managers should focus on supporting and stimulating
employees to work to improve the way in which they do their jobs.

 

Contacts

Productivity Europe (5S specialists) – Tel. 01234 851543

Bill Eaton, Eaton Management Services – Tel. 0116-247 1887

Best Factory Awards Contact Productivity Europe as above.The
Lancaster Group – Tel: 0115-960 4664

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