Sunday, September 7, 2014

Making Your Company a Hard Club to Get Into

One day many years ago, I had a thought that woke me out of a sound sleep. (It was either the thought or something I ate). 

Can we become a very, very difficult club to join? Very exclusive, like some fancy country club?  Imagine if 150 people applied for a single opening?

Two things I noticed that needed changing. 

First, turnover was way too high. I don't remember what the percentage was, but it was up there. Just because you saw someone at work this week didn't mean you would see them next week. As we began our lean journey, and were studying Toyota, I learned that one of the 4 "Ps" is "Develop Your People and Partners", and I realized we were doing a very good job at that. New employees with conquer the world attitudes were being "developed" into people who either were disgruntled and left or people who needed to be let go. 

Second, our process of on-boarding people might have left something to be desired. Our pace of growth had reduced our hiring criteria to a 98.6F body temperature and a steady pulse rate. 

Fast forward about 3 years after that rude awakening in the middle of the night. Our company strategy had changed completely, we were intent on becoming the elusive "learning organization". We were no longer simply just another manufacturer of paints and coatings, but a place where people came to learn, grow and prosper.

That didn't happen by itself, and it didn't come easy. During the lean journey, we spent a ton of time learning together. In doing a few hundred A3s each year, everyone in the company was constantly learning about our problems, processes, customers and challenges as members of A3 teams and at A3 closings. Additionally, we did the work of reading and doing quizzes together. The entire company spent an hour each week together discussing "Lean Thinking" then "Six Sigma for Managers" then "The Toyota Way", "The Goal", "It's Your Ship", "Inside the Magic Kingdom", and "Jumpstart Your Business Brain". Not just a handful of people.....every single person in the company. Soon after, the company university started during noon hour,and our learning became a 4 year, 40 credit curriculum which included 12 "core courses" (Epoxy 101, Urethane 101, IT 101, Finance 101, Manufacturing 101, etc.) and several electives (Personal Finance, Knitting, Karate, Beer Making, Small Engine Repair, etc.)

It seemed like people were together, thinking, a lot! Before, the only time people were all together were  at the Christmas party and at the company picnic. 

A funny thing happened to the turnover rate. It disappeared. People were just not leaving. The company was recognized nationally as a fun place to be. Because of our "lean journey" we were much more productive (sales had grown 80% without adding anyone), so people were making more money. 

Now, new people who wanted to join the club needed to understand that to join, you needed to be willing to continuously improve your job and learn. You still had to have a 98.6F body temp and a steady pulse, but you also needed to read and do quizzes for "Lean Thinking" and "The Toyota Way" in your 90 day probation period to be considered for full time employment. Also, new employees spent one hour each week with one of our "Lean Beret" learning about things like our company purpose, how to lead and participate in A3, lean tools, etc. Each new employee with 1 year tenure or less would spend an hour with me in a "Futures Class".....learning about our company purpose, how to better lead and participate in A3 and lean tools 201. 

I still don't know what woke me up (the thought or the guacamole), but the company had become a much more difficult club to join, and the bottom line was proof!

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