Manufacturing Success: The Culture that Makes Lean Work Part 2

posted on: Wednesday January 11, 2017

industrial-1560826_1920In Part 1, we discussed the efforts of Lean Manufacturing and the failing results that many American
companies experience. The tools work for some but not others, and since they work so extremely well for Toyota, we need to understand what we are doing wrong.

We mentioned this article that thoroughly discusses one popular Lean strategy, Just-In-Time. The article explains that Toyota’s success is rooted in the Japanese workforce culture itself. If we can use Western tools to bridge the gap, we may be able to create the kind of culture in our plants that will make Lean successful.

Here are four cultural differences the article outlines:

  1. “Workers are highly motivated to seek constant improvement upon that which already exists. Although high standards are currently being met, there exist even higher standards to achieve. “

This is a driving force that keeps a company truly Lean. Once change has been made, your Lean approach is not over. For Americans, we have to learn to think that way. One possible solution to this is to hold regular meetings with employees to come up with new ideas. It may be more feasible if you rotate the people who attend each meeting. The idea, though, is to consistently task employees with looking at their work in a Lean manner. You are literally training them to think about their jobs as a constant effort to improve.

  1. “Companies focus on group effort which involves the combining of talents and sharing knowledge, problem- solving skills, ideas and the achievement of a common goal. “

If you use a weekly or monthly meeting to get employees thinking Lean, you could combine this with sharing best practices or even mini workshops where your employees train each other on their strongest skills. Reward those who work together as a team to solve problems. Hold contests, recognize hard workers, and ask for regular feedback from your staff. They need to feel like their input is valued. Competition can also drive Americans to work towards a common goal.

  1. “Work itself takes precedence over leisure. It is not unusual for a Japanese employee to work 14-hour days. This contrasts greatly when compared to the Western emphasis on time available for leisure activities.”

We really don’t want to interfere with work/life balance here. Our aging manufacturing workforce is already an issue we need to solve – throwing more emphasis on work hours won’t benefit us. Rather, use equipment and automation that lets employees get more work done in less time with less effort. One extremely practical piece of equipment manufacturers use to accomplish these goals is the battery-powered tug. This kind of solution doesn’t just add to productivity; it shows employees that you care about their wellbeing and the effort they put into their work. You’re making it easier for them to do their jobs because you value them as people. They will be more open to your ideas when you take care of them.

  1. “Employees tend to remain with one company throughout the course of their career span. This allows the opportunity for them to hone their skills and abilities at a constant rate while offering numerous benefits to the company. These benefits manifest themselves in employee loyalty, low turnover costs and fulfillment of company goals.”

What kind of professional development exists at your facility? Do you know where your employees want to be in five years? Do they even know what kinds of positions they might want at your company? If you want your employees to be loyal to you, treat them well and show them they have a future. If you can show them that doing their jobs with continuous improvement in mind will ultimately benefit their own careers, even better.

We may not be able to completely transform the culture here (nor would we want to), but we may be able to get our workforce motivated in the same way that Toyota’s employees are driving change and success. Consider these points and what you can do to help your employees approach their jobs in a similar way.

For assistance understanding what power tugs do and whether they would benefit your employees, contact Load Mover Inc. The tugs are easily leveraged for multiple applications, and they are extremely easy to use. Call us at 952-767-1720 or email