Best Practice

Personnel Today’s monthly series reveals how managers tackle business
problems and enhance performance. In this issue, Neil Lane, continuous
improvement coordinator with Ericsson Mobile Communications (UK), looks at
employee involvement

Ericsson Mobile Communications Limited (EML) employs more than 1,000 staff
on its production site at Carlton-in-Lindrick, Nottinghamshire. As the UK
manufacturing division of Ericsson Mobile Phones and Terminals, EML is geared
up to double its output this year with the aid of new automated flowlines. This
represents a considerable increase over the previous 12 months’ output and goes
some way to explain why the Worksop site has put so much effort in employee
involvement.

In common with many firms, EML’s past attempts at employee participation
were rudimentary, centring on a suggestion scheme that was taking up to four
months to respond to the originator.

Recognising that the workforce was hindered by a lack of authority over
day-to-day decision-making, we opted to introduce an employee involvement
programme in October 1998. Entitled “Sharing, Actions, Initiatives, Needs and
Teamwork” (SAINT), this drew on the experience of a similar exercise
successfully undertaken at our sister plant in Lynchburg, US.

To kick off the programme at EML Lindrick five volunteer “ambassadors”, from
key areas across the site visited Lynchburg on a fact-finding mission. Their
brief was to see what lessons might transfer well to the UK and help us meet
our own business objectives of building more high-quality phones at reduced cost
and with a greater sense of ownership among employees.

The result was a 13-page charter (since expanded to 18 pages) that sets out
the values, objectives and even working procedures involved in running the
SAINT programme.

Infectious enthusiasm

Armed with this framework, the ambassadors introduced the scheme to their
colleagues. Their enthusiasm for the task proved infectious: five teams were
created at the start of October 1998, expanding to 30 by the end of the year –
a total streets ahead of our expectations. As manufacturing manager Paul Rayner
said during his end-of-year review: "Despite the obstacles posed by
increased output and the need to release people for SAINT training, we received
more than 100 ideas and potential savings of £1m. While we would have been
happy with 10 per cent participation at this point, we actually achieved 30 per
cent."

SAINT teams are not a substitute for the cross-functional improvement teams
which come together for specific projects, nor do they replace our quality
circles. The focus is on productivity improvement – issues such as pay,
discipline, health and safety or complaints are off limits.

Manager workshops

Management buy-in is critical and headed the list of risks identified by the
project team early on in the programme. To ensure supervisors and middle/senior
managers were comfortable with their role, we organised a series of one-day
workshops. Far from feeling redundant under the new regime, supervisors give
essential support to act as the conduit between employees and the management
team. This is because they:

• Fully participate (but have no casting vote)

• Aspire to be a good role model

• Encourage individuals to present ideas

• Assist the team leaders in managing conflict

• Communicate current performance

• Ensure feedback is given to idea originators.

SAINT teams have full authority to implement improvements in their area, as
long as these ideas fall within an assigned budget. If costs fall outside this
figure, they put their case to the manager concerned. Ideas affecting other
areas of the business are investigated by a central support group.

To stimulate ideas, EML offers low-cost reward items for team members. For
the first idea submitted and accepted by the team, the employee receives a
stainless steel pen. A portable clock radio is given after five accepted ideas,
and a polo shirt after 10. All recognition items are identified as SAINT items.

While our overall objective is to engender employee participation, we do
expect to share some of the fiscal benefits arising from the SAINT activities.
Accordingly, an award structure is in place that pays out at the company’s
discretion. This takes into account both the idea’s originator and the number
of team members involved.

Progress in SAINT activities is monitored by the programme coordinator and
via a monthly open forum. Here, a cross-section of more than 40 people –
including site managers and team leaders – discuss specific team projects,
share sensitive company information and identify the returns from the
programme.

Has it been a success? Judging by the improved camaraderie across the site,
the answer has to be yes. And while a company re-organisation in June last year
did cause the programme to stall, we remain firmly committed to the concept. Evidence
that employee involvement is working can be seen from a breakdown of 1999 SAINT
activities, namely: 380 ideas accepted (out of 470 submissions), 145 ideas
implemented, 93 involved cost reductions, estimated savings of £2.1m and actual
savings of £425,000 for an expenditure of just £1,200.

No one comes to work to do a bad job. What we have given people is control
over the route they choose to reach their targets.

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