Mar. 18, 2016 – I’m a slow learner, I confess.
Last month, along with my team, I presented the findings of a study that was done in conjunction with Fanshawe College. It showed a definite correlation between measuring and sharing routine value-adding activities and productivity improvement. The key is finding meaningful and appropriate ways to share a quantified representation of that value-adding activity in real-time. It’s a concept I’ve been working on for four years, and an event I was planning for a month. I really thought I knew this topic very well.
Some call it gamification, a term I don’t really like but have come to understand better. As human beings, we all get a great satisfaction not just from what we do, but what we get done. There’s a definite distinction there that is often missed. When someone asks me what I do, I usually start to rattle off my job title, the company I work for and the details about my job in a somewhat rote fashion. If anyone, however, asks me about something I’ve recently done, I usually go into specifics and talk about it a lot more enthusiastically. For some reason, what I am doing and what I have accomplished both invoke feelings of pride, but more so with a task completed — especially one I think I have done well.
That’s one of the topics I have been speaking about a lot lately as we try to introduce new ways of communicating with folks on the plant floor (it’s what I do as my job). We have proven time and again that an engaged workforce is a happier workforce, and a happier workforce is a more productive workforce. If someone asks me about a project we’ve just completed, the level of pride and detail kicks up quite a few notches.
The other day when I came home from work, just shortly after our big event presentation, I was again reminded of the importance of measuring and sharing “value adding activity.” My wife met me at the front door and enthusiastically invited me to follow her to the kitchen pantry closet. “Look here,” she says, “see what I’ve done today?” Fortunately for me, she continued to explain her accomplishments. “I completely reorganized the pantry. I threw out some old stuff, rearranged the cookbooks, and put partitions in to keep things from sliding around. I’ve been meaning to do this for a year, and I finally got around to it. It took me the whole day.” She works hard everyday, and everyday is filled with important activities, but this was something else; it was tactile, quantifiable and visual.
Some might say that this is a good illustration of a Lean activity and Lean thinking, but I think it’s far more than that. This is a basic human thing — the need to quantify the work we do, what we have actually accomplished, and then be able to share that with the people around us. I often credit Henry Ford with the creation of the middle class by paying workers more in line with the value they add to the products they build (which “encouraged” other manufacturers looking for workers to do the same), but at the same time, the disconnection between work and value started growing. It was a lot harder for the people doing the work to connect value with the activities they were performing.
Halfway through my wife’s guided tour of what she accomplished that particular day, I realized that everyday is filled with numerous activities she has gotten done that I, nor anyone one else in the house, typically ever notices. Fortunately for me (and everyone else in my family), the results of her daily efforts are sufficiently satisfying for her, but that’s no excuse for not noticing. Her daily “value-adding activities” continue relentlessly, without affirmation or feedback — unless of course, if something goes wrong.
Our factory floors are no different. I like to think that the most valuable people are the people actually adding value (i.e., actually doing the work), but we tend to measure everything else: uptime, downtime, changeover time, start time, parts, cycles, etc. We take it for granted that “it’s their job,” and they do it because they have to. That’s true enough, but, wouldn’t it be better for them, and the company, if the value they added each day was measured and displayed in a tactile, quantifiable and visual way?
As manufacturers struggle to attract and retain workers — especially young people — this becomes increasingly important. The first thing we should do is change the terms we use. “Associate” or “employee” is not much better than “labourer” or “worker.” We need to start thinking of them as “value-adders” and not as a “cost” or “expense.” They add value; they don’t take away value. No offence to everyone else in the organization, but in most factories I’ve been in, no one in an office adds as much value to the product produced than they do. The more value-adders you have, the better.
This is something we can all learn to do better. Start by measuring the value they add, and then make sure you notice.
This column was originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.