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June-July  2004

IG Instructions

Prophet or Profit?
Do You Have Either in Your Insulating Glass Department?
by Mike Burk

A great deal of the work that I do as a trainer for Glass Equipment Development Inc. involves working with the production employees who operate the automated machinery we manufacture. Some of the most successful ideas for improving productivity and quality originate with these operators. I present many of these ideas to management where they are often embraced and implemented.

Operators often mention that “they (the management) just won’t listen” or “I told them about this but nothing gets done.” I am repeatedly asked why management will listen to me but not to their employees—the people who operate the machinery and meet the daily production requirements. 

Listening to the Prophets
“A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” These words were spoken by Jesus to the people of Nazareth. The people in the town where he grew up refused to believe him because he was merely one of them. Today the expression is often used to describe anyone whose talents or accomplishments are recognized by everyone except those at home.

Do you have a prophet in your own insulating glass department? Do you listen to the people with years of knowledge and experience manufacturing insulating glass units? 

Most likely these operators know the equipment and process better than anyone else in the facility. They know by the sounds and vibrations when a machine is not running at its optimum performance or is about to fail. They know what has to be done to beat the system in order to meet the demands of production. They have many ideas that might make their job easier or improve production. The key to capitalizing on this accumulated knowledge is listening. Truly listening, and asking questions about the associates, their job and their suggestions for continual improvement. 

Really Listen
Listening is considered by many to be the most important management communication skill. Listening clearly can result in better decision making due to the ability to gather complete and accurate information. To do this, we must improve our listening capacity by recognizing communication barriers. 

Effective listening skills can be enhanced by following a few simple rules. Don’t make initial judgments about the speaker or the topic. Be open to new ideas and suggestions. It is important to let the speaker finish before responding. You can’t be truly listening if you are considering your response before the speaker has finished. Reformulate the ideas expressed by the speaker in your own words. Clarify these ideas to the speaker to demonstrate your understanding. Show the speaker respect by limiting distractions and concentrating on what is being said. One insulating glass manufacturer made major improvements by following these steps.

A Company That Listened
In the fall of 2001 I completed a quality and capacity workshop at a West Coast window manufacturing facility where I documented 72 quality and capacity issues. The insulating glass department was dirty, crowded and lacked any semblance of flow. As equipment broke down or raw materials ran out, production workers roamed from one production line to another attempting to meet the next crisis or the constant demands from the glazing lines. The plant was not able to meet production requirements despite having three shifts working seven days. More than 10 percent of the insulating glass units made each day had to be remade due to quality defects. Morale and initiative were at all-time lows under the constant pressure to produce. Associate turnover was high due to the continuous work with no time off.

I returned to this facility one year later only to discover an incredible turnaround. I thought that I entered the wrong facility. The insulating glass department was clean and material flowed easily through the aisles. Overtime was minimal and remade units were less than 1 percent. The production capacity was increased to the point where orders from other company locations were transferred to this facility. The list of quality and capacity issues was reduced from 72 to four. I interviewed the glass line associates to determine the main reasons for this unprecedented change. The opinion was unanimous. The glass line supervisor had been replaced with a manager who listened. He listened and implemented their ideas and suggestions. 

One innovation changed the method for determining which production batch would be used at the start of the shift. This method sorted the daily schedule on a form sketched by hand. Using this simple form, the department was able to supply the immediate needs of the glazing lines at the start of the shift while easily meeting delivery time throughout the shift. This efficient scheduling gained the department the time it needed for remakes and special orders. The production associate who developed the idea spoke of how he devised the form at home almost two years ago. He believed it would improve production, but didn’t bring the suggestion to work. He did not believe that the old supervisor would listen to his idea simply because it wasn’t his own. The new supervisor listened and was able to make immediate major improvements in the insulating glass quality and capacity. This plant is now the most efficient and productive of the company’s seven window manufacturing facilities. The turnaround has not stopped. The listening continues as do the improvements and successes. Listening has become a habit.

To become a successful manager you need to listen. Seek out the prophets in your insulating glass department. When you find them, make a habit of effectively listening to them. Implement their ideas and it can be guaranteed that you, your associates and your company will profit. 

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