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The will and the way

August 25, 2015

“Where there is a will there is a way”

 

In one – or more … - of my previous posts I have mentioned that I think that what really makes the difference in a glass container plant – or in any organization for that matter - it is not so much technology but people.

 

I know…I almost can see the smile in your face…That’s what everybody else says!

From the biggest multinational group to the smallest of the family owned producer everyone seems to have embraced this motto.

In fact, written – explicitly or implicitly - in the company mission and/or in its vision statements and displayed in the shop floor in BIG letters, we see it everywhere: “People are our most valuable resource”.

 

But do they really mean it?

That is, does the organization understands and recognizes that its employees are really the ones that are “making the way”?

And what about their “will”?

How can the organizations foster a working environment where people go that “extra mile”?

Don’t take me wrong.

I come from a technical background and worked all my life in manufacturing plants (automotive, electronic, glass container) so I understand perfectly the role of technology in the success of industrial processes.

 

Although to tell you the truth I have always found technology to be a little bit boring and people much more interesting to deal with…

My point is that even with the best available technology installed in a glass plant, that it is not a guarantee of success.

 

I have witnessed several cases where technology fails shockingly despite – and sometimes because – of people.

By the other hand, having people with the right attitude can really make the difference and set the company in the path of success in an arguably “less intensive” technological environment.

 

This being said by someone who is been working for the last 12 years in an industry that is notoriously known for being conservative and cautious in implementing technical innovations (theme to be addressed for sure in a future post!).

 

Again, do not miss interpret me. I do not say that technology and people are mutually exclusive.

No.

 

Ideally they should go hand in hand and the optimum results are achieved when we have the best people with the most modern technology.

I am just trying to make the point that if I had to choose the critical factor for success – based in my experience – I would say it is people. It’s their will that makes the way.

 

Let’s take the example of a glass container plant and more specifically of the Cold End / Quality Control areas (area which I have more first-hand experience).

Glass container plants are a harsh working environment.

 

Notoriously high temperatures and high noise levels make it a place where naturally you do not want to be. Let alone work for an 8 hours shift.

If that work involves some degree of physical effort, concentration, reasoning; you will have to be motivated – a reason for being there, the will – in order to make a good job, the way.

Motivated persons are curious and inquisitive regarding all things concerning and around their job.

They usually take ownership of their line and treat all things related with it as if they were their own.

 

It is of the most importance that the persons that are in the shop floor making the Quality Inspections – for example – really understand how important their job is to the success of the organization.

 

Their function has a meaning. It is not just a set of procedures – tasks – performed accordingly with a schedule during the shift.

And then they just go home.

I have found it too often – and experienced it! – that key information does not flow down to the floor shop. It stays in the meeting rooms where “sit down and report” happens.

 

People in the line are left often to their own devices, clueless of the bigger picture.

What is the customer of the bottle (jar) that is being produced? What is the product that is being filled in it? What are the main quality concerns of the customer? What are the usual defects? Do you know we are being audited?

 

For those who are familiar with behavioral theories know that not the same motivational techniques work for different persons. One should adapt to the “psychological profile” of the intended person.

 

Selection of people with the right profile for the job is key (unfortunately we see too many casting errors in glass plants!).

And then it is all about training, training and more training!

So if the “recipe” is known why we do not see it applied more often?

 

Let’s talk about the way.

We see in glass plants a lot of firefighting going on. Not enough time is invested in establishing and committing to a strategy that if not immediately for sure at middle term will give its results.

 

The focus is too much on the oncoming issue. The short term, the day’s efficiency.

In glass plants – and all the others – there is always a balance of powers between Production and Quality. In glass plants the scale typically tilts towards Production.

This is a capital intensive industry where in relatively short time cycles there is the need of big investments (furnace reconstructions, line refurbishments). Between cycles, money has to be made. Thus, the focus on efficiency, profitability.

 

The usual pitfall is to consider efficiency and quality as mutually exclusive.

In fact nothing could be more wrong.

 

Greater efficiency is achieved with higher quality level and not at the cost of the quality level.

They go hand-in-hand.

 

We use to say that in the long run we all be dead. But the fact is that only sustained quality throughout the time is what will keep customers keep coming back to buy more of our glass.

 

That should be the way.

 

 

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