Spirit of enterprise

Development programmes for business leaders can take up too much time and
money. One solution is a day out with the DTI’s Best Practice exchange scheme
Inside UK Enterprise. We followed one such factory tour to measure its worth

Inside UK Enterprise (IUKE) run by the DTI aims to increase the productivity
and profitability of companies by enabling businesses to learn best practice
techniques and methods from other exemplar organisations.

The IUKE initiative offers a programme of one-day visits to companies
committed to improving their performance through best practice.

It recruits host companies with a record of excellence in a wide range of
business areas – from customer satisfaction to manufacturing assembly and waste
management to strategy implementation.

Many of these companies have received external accreditation and recognition
through various UK and European awards such as Investors in People, Best
Factory and Service Excellence.

All visits are unique and are geared to the strengths of the host companies
and the issues visiting companies wish to cover.

Four Square, the drinks division of Mars Incorporated, had 14 visitors from
around the country in September. The company is a market leader in integrated
drinks systems, set up in 1955 to provide refreshments in the workplace. It
offers a full service – supply and maintenance of machines as well as delivery
of packaged drinks.

Every member of staff is an associate of the company, which operates as a
single-status organisation. Staff benefit from a high degree of individual
responsibility, minimal bureaucracy, an informal working environment and, most
importantly, an emphasis on team working.

The visit

Training co-ordinator Dave Eddie organised the event for Four Square and has
long been enthusiastic about the concept. "I first heard of the IUKE
programme through a past training manager here and have since been on six
visits to various companies," he says.

"I got something new out of every visit – some great ideas from Matra
BAe and a very impressive visit to Powergen, for example."

The day began at the Four Square factory in Basingstoke with all visitors
eagerly sampling the company’s products. A diverse range of organisations were
represented, including Oxfordshire Fire Service, Whitecroft Lighting,
Wolstenholme Machine Knives, Bass Brewers, Heyco, Lynx Printing Technologies
and Ocular Science.

Attention

Visitor numbers are limited to 15 maximum on any visit in the programme to
ensure plenty of attention from the hosts. In this case, four staff were
dedicated to the day with others providing further input on the shopfloor.

Development manager Iain James opened proceedings with an introduction and
company overview. This included the Mars operating style and five principles:
quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom.

The company motto, "Great people winning through inspiring
products", was introduced by the hosts, who went on to explain in detail
the methods used in staff development – training, the appraisal process and
cross-functional moves, which allow associates to move into new areas within
the company.

Supplier development manager Steve Holt gave an comprehensive insight into
how Four Square has worked with and acted as consultants to suppliers to bring
down costs and lead-in times, while at the same time increasing flexibility,
quality and productivity.

The visitors were impressed by the development of a supplier action team set
up to spread the word and reach core objectives. This, Holt explained, was a
process to sustain a mutual, long-term relationship with their carefully
selected suppliers. He cited considerable success with continuous, year-on-year
growth. Lead times have been drastically reduced, Kanban supply methods have
been implemented, supplier "pull" systems are in place and measures
and targets have been agreed with suppliers.

Continuous improvement using the Kaizen method has been key to the success
of Four Square. Development manager James detailed how the Lean Journey – from
research into the way companies such as Polaroid and Xerox put the methods into
practice, to the changes implemented and successes enjoyed by Four Square –
reduced manufacturing costs, productivity improvements, reduced stock levels
and more flexibility in-plant.

A tour of the machine plant and the drinks packaging lines was given by
associates directly involved in the process. Visitors followed the production
lines to see for themselves how the five principles they had heard about
earlier were put into practice.

After the tours and lunch, the host’s quality manager, Tim Henry detailed
the strict customer satisfaction procedures employed by Four Square, then the
visit ended with a question and answer session.

Sharing experiences

The hosts were open about the challenges they had faced and mistakes they
had made along the way, but were proud of what they had achieved and wanted to
share their experiences with others.

Eddie believes the hosts get just as much out of the IUKE programme as the
visitors. "As hosts, not only do we in turn pass on our knowledge, but we
also acquire best practice from discussions with our visitors.

"I think there are lots of good ideas out there just waiting to be
tapped and this exchange programme enables us all to share this knowledge and
experience. We may think we know best, but we don’t always."

Other Four Square associates are booked on to further visits as part of the
company’s continuous development programme.

A recent survey identified that 80 per cent of visitors leave an IUKE
one-day visit with an idea or insight they can apply to increase the
performance and profitability of their business.

And on this occasion the general consensus was that the IUKE visit was a
huge success. No visitor left without having learned something from the hosts
that could be used in their own business. The visit contained a good mix of theory
and practice and, most importantly, allowed everyone to see the obstacles and
challenges to be met in any major change to operating methods and how to
overcome them.

Valuable visits

All the visitors said this was a valuable programme because it uses exemplar
companies to pass on their experiences. Everyone felt it was unbelievable value
for money – where else could you get almost one-to-one mentoring for £95 for
the day?

Visitors’ comments

"It gave me a real insight into how a progressive company runs its
business. I can draw comparisons on what they do and translate them to our
group. I will particularly take with me the way people are left to get on with
things without interference, the individual ownership of tasks and the way
noticeboards are used to such good effect. I will be putting the customer
satisfaction surveys into practice as soon as I get back."
Malcolm Ryman, manufacturing director, Linx Printing Technologies, Huntingdon

"I’ve been on other best practice courses, but this format is much
better – more shopfloor-based. You can actually see what’s going on."
Bass Brewers (Alton) general manager Gordon Stirton

"It’s been excellent, very professional, and shows all levels of the
company right down to the shop floor."
Whitecroft Lighting (Manchester) cell manager Mark Wall

On test – Inside UK Enterprise Best Practice Programme. Designed and
delivered by: The DTI and run on its behalf by Status Meetings, Festival Hall,
Petersfield, Hampshire GU31 4JW. Tel: 01730 235015 E-mail: iuke@statusmeetings.co.uk
Web site: www.iuke.co.uk

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