Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Employee Engagement: Making it happen for the Customer

I've mentioned unions before in previous posts, and how some folks find unions to be an obstacle to getting things done.  This week, I'd like to give you another example of a success story from a unionized plant.

At the first B2B manufacturing business I worked for, whenever our general manager was going to be away on vacation, he rotated the job of assuming his role among the members of the management group.

Eventually it became my turn to run the morning production meetings and coordinate production schedules and customer orders for a week. Things started out being very much a routine.

We had an order in house for a new product we were doing for the first time for a new customer my team had been developing.  It wasn't a complex product - just a foil lid for a major yogurt producer - but our production team encountered a serious problem.  The foil we had received to run this order had some significant quality issues that adversely impacted how easily we could run the product on our presses and downstream operations.  It wasn't something we could easily replace.  The lead time for this particular grade of foil was 16 weeks, and the customer's purchase order required it to be delivered the week I was in charge.

Our production manager suggested running the order on an older press that wasn't used much, but we had only a couple of operators who'd ever been trained on this press.  He suggested we ask for volunteers to put together a crew to run this order.

The union assisted us in assembling a crew for this old press and managed to finder an operator from among their membership who had once run this particular piece of equipment.

We met with the crew and explained the challenges to running the job and offered whatever help we could.  They agreed to give it a try.

Not only did they manage to run the order, we also managed to deliver it on time to the customer.  The order took longer to run than we would normally have planned, but the job needed to be run slowly so the press crew could maintain control over the substandard foil they were running.

At no time was the customer aware of the problems we had in producing their order.  The product ran fine on their lines.

At our next communications meeting, the management team recognized the crew who ran the yogurt lid job, and they got lots of cheers from their union mates - and a lot of respect from our management team.

In this case, the men on that crew wanted to demonstrate their skill in running a very challenging job.  None of them wanted to let the customer down.  They came through without the traditional union-management rhetoric.  it was just one instance in which union and management showed they could both be on the same side - the side of the customer.

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