By Ben Hershey, President & Coach, 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC
What is the difference between companies which are stuck in the status quo and those which are transforming themselves into the leader in their industry? One significant difference is their focus on Continuous Improvement. By focusing on making things better—People, Projects, and Process—these leading companies are increasing annual revenue and profitability. Moreover, they are transforming the culture of their teams.
In the 200+ companies I have worked with in the past seven years, I’ve seen a trait with owners who are successful. Rather than doing the same thing day-to-day, they are life-long learners. A trait I learned from my Father early in life, a life-long learner is focused on continually improving their company, people, team, and management. These same individuals build efficient companies using systems, best practices, and technology, and they challenge their teams to continually improve. But most importantly, in these determined individuals, I see their focus on people. Through this investment in improvement, improving the character/culture of their teams, focusing on results and improved communication, these leaders have turned their companies around and exceeded others in the marketplace.
One key individual in our industry who exemplifies this is John Herring with A-1 Truss in Fort Pierce, FL. John has consistently focused on people and hiring the right individuals, training, and focusing on results. Because of this, John has seen the company grow and prosper through the years. Others in our industry have or are learning—Continuous Improvement is not just about the process on the floor, out in the yard or in the office, it is also about our people.
Changing Your Dynamic Requires Investment
Getting your company culture right requires an investment both of your time and of what you are providing to your employees. You can provide training, improved technology in your operation, or improvement in the software they use to increase efficiency—but you also need to invest time in regular team meetings and programs to guide people in the right direction and keep the lines of communication open. Although employee recognition programs, with incentives such as employee of the month awards, have disappeared in many companies, they can go a long way towards improving culture too. You can also include things such as gift cards when work cell members meet their goals, regular employee satisfaction surveys, and a personal career development plan for each employee.
Hiring for Character
When was the last time you looked at how your team was selecting individuals to hire? When I made a presentation with John Herring a few years ago at the BCMC show, we talked about how A-1 was not looking to hire the most experienced, but instead hiring the character of the individual and then training the employee for skills needed. If you think about this, there is a profound difference in what they are doing compared to most companies in the LBM industry.
Most companies I see will use much of a new employees’ first day to cover safety, company rules, etc., but those making a difference are training continually. One of the best practices I teach to everyone is using employee meetings—employee interactions are always a moment when you can share a training tip. I encourage companies to use shift huddles to teach best practices, and this includes the office teams. We all need to keep learning and growing. From my first presentation in Kindergarten “Show-And-Tell” of a 2×4 to today, I am still learning—we need to find way to keep our employees open to learning too.
Your People (Should) Come First
Ever wonder why airlines like Southwest, Alaska, or Jet Blue have some of the best people? It is because of the emphasis they put on their teams, their people. In each of these examples, their employees come first. Yes, I know “the customer is always right”; but by putting their people first they create a culture where ultimately they will take care of the customer and thus the company will grow and prosper. You can do the same thing by making sure owners, managers, and supervisors are checking in with their associates on a regular basis and tracking their growth as an individual and within the company.
These check-in’s can be quarterly or sometimes monthly, but the purpose is to have an open and honest conversation about their progress and growth. Agenda items include: Core Values, such as teamwork, ongoing learning, and attitude; Accountabilities, such as performance and efficiency in meeting goals; Accomplishments; Improvement Areas; and Listening, which goes both ways!
Focusing on Results
In Six Sigma, a key feature of making improvements to an operation is focusing on results. You can make all the changes on the floor or in the office you want, but you need to track and share them too! How can the team/work cell know the results if you don’t measure and relay that information? I’ve seen companies buy awesome technology for an operation, but then it is almost as if it “exists” on the floor but is never monitored to see if the expected results are actually being delivered. Our people want to know; they really do. Feedback and communication are excellent tools to continually improve our teams. By involving the team in improvement and the results, they are going to be more apt to buy into what you want.
Hold Regular Meetings/Communicate
We certainly do not need another sit-down meeting; as a matter of fact, you should do away with most sit-down meetings and have standing meetings. But why not try short, to the point meetings where you communicate responsibilities, share expectations, and then empower your team to succeed. Gemba walks in the operation are also a way to communicate; not just to observe if lean practices are being met, but also to interact and communicate with a focus on training, development, and providing the tools for success to your team.
Holding these regular communication sessions may be tough to do at the start, but the more you do it, the more your team will be engaged and focused on the goals of the company. And let me assure you, taking 5-10 minutes out of a shift to do this will more than make up for the lost productivity. I have trained many managers this way and every time they see these result in improvement.
Ultimately, we have a goal as a company to improve the top and bottom line. This can be accomplished with changing processes and changing technology (software and equipment), but it also has to include continually improving our people. One of the reasons I enjoy consulting as much as I have (and I’ve not gone back out and bought another component company) is the opportunity to coach and develop people. Coaching them in lean best practices, helping them develop a winning operational strategy, and helping those same individuals and companies to grow and succeed is always worth the time and effort. So if I can be of assistance to you or point you to a resource, please give me a call.
Best Practice Tip
We always talk about the importance of lifting our components properly; we even have a resource in the SBCA Long-Span Truss Handling guide. I had the opportunity recently to visit a friend of mine, Brad Unruh, while passing through Oklahoma . Brad runs Timberlake TrussWorks in Helena, OK, and he and Mahlon Boehs (one of his business partners) have developed a unique lift mechanism for long span trusses in the yard. Many times when watching a company lift a long-span truss to the deck of the trailer I’ll see the truss bending, causing the plates in certain joints to gap. By lifting with the device they developed, the truss does not bend and is safely placed on the trailer. Great Job, Brad and Mahlon!
Ben Hershey is CEO of 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC, the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, he has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. He is the expert the industry turns to when they need assistance. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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